Famous people I’ve met, posthumous edition


Oddly, I found the exercise of noting 70 people in my life who have passed therapeutic. So, I figured I’d list some famous people I’ve met who have since died.

Rod Serling:  When you grew up in Binghamton, NY, in the early 1960s, Serling, born in the Syracuse area but grew up on the West Side of the Parlor City, was a big deal. The Twilight Zone television series was chockful of Binghamtonian references, from a rundown bus station to a carousel, which looked much like Recreation Park’s merry-go-round.

In 1970, I, as president of the student government, was given the honor of introducing Serling at a schoolwide assembly. Rod had been the student government leader thirty years earlier.

His favorite teacher, Helen Foley, who was namechecked in a TZ episode, wrote me a too-long introduction that mentioned him being a paratrooper in World War II.

While briefly mortified then, I understood why he came out on stage during my introduction. After the assembly, he spoke to La Foley’s last-period public speaking class, which I got permission to attend. Rod smoked incessantly in the classroom. The coffin nails killed him five years later at 50; fame doesn’t immunize one from disease.

Earl Warren: My Constitutional hero., as recently noted. I never did figure out how my SUNY New Paltz professor, Ron Steinberg, managed to arrange for his class of about 15 students to meet a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

A former Weaver

Pete Seeger: Reading my diary, I noticed I had seen Pete sing at least thrice in the autumn of 1972, including twice in one day. I estimate that I’d seen him perform at least 30 times.

When the Springboks rugby team from apartheid South Africa was scheduled to play at Bleeker Stadium in Albany in September 1981, with the approval of long-time mayor Erastus Corning II, there was a call for protests. I was at the demonstration, along with over a thousand others.

There might have been an even larger response, except it was POURING. But Pete was there, and we were standing outside the stadium getting soaked, umbrellas notwithstanding, while discussing the moral necessity to respond to racism and other evils.

Ed Dague: My favorite newsperson in the Albany market. Somewhere in the attic, I have the transcript of an April 1994 11 p.m. news broadcast on WNYT-TV, Channel 13, that I got to watch being broadcast while near the set.

Back when he had a mustache

Alex Trebek: My sense of the JEOPARDY host was that he enjoyed the show’s rhythm in the Los Angeles area—two or three shows, a meal break, then three or two more episodes.

When I saw him at the Wang Theater in Boston in September 1998, I sensed he was uncomfortable doing a series of interviews with the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, and other media outlets. I got to watch him a lot because there was a lot of waiting around.

He was explicitly annoyed with not getting into our hotel, the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, quickly that first evening because of a Bill Clinton fundraiser, which followed a massive demonstration both against Clinton and against special prosecutor Ken Starr, who had put out explicit information online regarding the President and Monica Lewinsky. I don’t know if his irritation was political/cultural – he tended to be rather conservative – or merely the inconvenience.

Regardless, I’m disappointed I don’t have a photo with him because he was doing the bunny-ears thing with his fingers behind my back, which I saw on a monitor.

Sept 1972: Pete Seeger, Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden

lettuce boycott

In two weeks in September 1972, I saw Pete Seeger, Jane Fonda, and Tom Hayden twice each.

Mon 11 Sep – Hitchhiked from New Paltz to Poughkeepsie to Nixon-Agnew headquarters to pick up some literature. [Even then, I always was interested in what the opposition was saying.]

Th 14 Sep – Congressman Howard W. Robison (R-Owego) was in town in his newly expanded district, supporting Nixon and the two-party system.

Mon 18 Sep – “I go to Nixon hq where I receive a warm reception.” [What was that about? Did they think I was a Nixon backer? Maybe they recognized me from my previous visit.]

My ex-roomie Ron, friend Mark, a guy named Bob, and I go to the Main Building auditorium. But the event is so significant that it’s moved to the Main Quad. There were several activists, including lettuce boycotters from the United Farm Workers. Jane Fonda talked about Hanoi. Tom Hayden said: “Unless Nixon thinks that down is up, we aren’t winding down the war.

Then the Okie, Mark, friend Alice and I went to a Kingston auditorium for another event with UFW reps, then a short play. Pete Seeger sang If I Had a Hammer, Land of A Thousand Songs, Songs For The Rifle, and Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag. Terry Morse (or Morris), “a black guy with a nice voice, but nervous,” sang A Better One and We Shall Be Relieved. He and Seeger sang Down By the Riverside.

An A.M.E. Zion pastor emceed and talked like a “Trinity A.M.E. Zion [my home church] pastor, including taking the collection.”

When Jane Fonda “discussed the anti-personnel weapons, I got very depressed and felt like crying.” The program broke up by 10:30 after Pete sang This Land Is Your Land.


I checked the Kingston Freeman reportage on this. Yes, there were two different events on the same day. The first sentence in the story: “There is probably truth to the rumor that Jane Fonda had an easier time getting into North Vietnam than Kingston’s Municipal Auditorium.”

The bizarre story involved getting an insurance policy, which ended up in US District Court. Later, the agreement of a “12-hour period” of the policy wasn’t made clear, and the lawyer working on it was unavailable because of Yom Kippur. Ultimately, one of the organizers had to drive from Poughkeepsie to Kingston with the amended document and court order before the doors could be opened.

Given the fact that I remember SO many things clearly about 1972, I’m really surprised that seeing Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden TWICE in one day is not one of them.

On another matter, if you want to write to complain about Jane Fonda going to North Vietnam and posing on a tank, know that she has apologized repeatedly for that lapse, so I don’t feel the need to relitigate it here.

More Pete

Th 21 Sep – Mark and I went to see a speaker named Patrick O’Neill. “Anti SST, pro-NASA, anti-Lockheed type aid, pro-pot legalization, anti-pot decriminalization, likes Nixon only for his court choices, fears McGovern election like the San Francisco earthquake.”

Fri 22 Sep – Went to see Pete Seeger concert. He told tales about miners and farmers. Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag, Land of A Thousand Songs, Train to Nuremberg, Walk This Lonesome Valley, Vote Song, The Young Woman and the Lie, Turn Turn Turn, Peart Bog Soldier, Guantanamera, Wimoweh, Old Glory, Hobo’s Lullabye, Casy Jones, Little Boxes, , Banks Are Made Of Marble, D-Day Dodgers, The Farmer’s First Wife, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Yodel Song, The Water is Wide, If I Had A Hammer, A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. Encore: This Land Is Your Land. I knew I had seen Pete a lot, but I didn’t realize it was twice in one week.

Other things were happening, including attending class, negotiating a marriage with the Okie, and hanging out with friends.

Pete Seeger would have been 100

The Pete Seeger Centennial Concert will be held Thursday, May 23 at The Egg in Albany.

Pete SeegerAt some point, I estimated that I saw Pete Seeger perform 32 times. The first time may have been at a George McGovern for President rally at SUNY New Paltz in the fall of 1972.

Pete would show up at various antiwar and environmental events up and down the Hudson in the 1970s.

I believe the only time I ever spoke to him, other than saying, “Hi, Pete!” was at an anti-apartheid rally in Albany in 1981; it was pouring rain. I saw him at a concert at Page Hall in Albany in April 1982. And I was on the Clearwater once.

I’ve written about Pete quite a bit, with some nifty links. I mentioned Goodnight Irene by the Weavers last week, and tomorrow will feature another Pete song.

So if you don’t know who he is, I’ll recommend:
Smithsonian Folkways biography
National Public Radio pieces
Songwriters Hall of Fame page
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame page; he was rightly inducted in 1996 as an early influence
All Music bio
Wikipedia page
Pete Seeger music
IMBD page, which has this quote: “His life since then has been one social cause after another, buoyed by an almost indefatigable career as a self-described ‘sing-along leader.'”

There are a number of Pete-themed centennial concerts this month, including one in Albany today featuring Happy Traum at the Linda. The Pete Seeger Centennial Concert will be held Thursday, May 23 at The Egg in Albany. Arlo Guthrie will be joined by a baker’s dozen of artists.

Listen to:
The Nation: Pete Seeger’s Top Ten Songs. “Musically, Seeger was both a songwriter and, like his idol Woody Guthrie, a great interpreter of America’s most resonant folk traditions.”
Rolling Stone: 20 Essential Tracks.
Greatest Hits, which is a bit of misnomer
Forever Young – Pete Seeger –
He Discusses “Turn, Turn, Turn” from If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle
A Never-Before-Heard Pete Seeger Recording

S is for Pete Seeger

Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger talk about the origins of the Cherokee written language.

peteseegerI was, and am, a big fan of the late folk singer Pete Seeger (May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014). I wrote about him on his 90th birthday in 2009 HERE, though I am surprised that I didn’t mention the fact that I had the opportunity to actually talk with Pete at the Springboks demonstration.

My affection for the We Shall Overcome album I have documented.

I remember watching him singing Waist Deep in the Big Muddy on The Smothers Brothers Show after it had previously been yanked by CBS.

The documentary Wasn’t That A Time, about the reunion of the Weavers- Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman, and Lee Hays – came out in 1982. I saw it at least a decade later. You should watch it.

Still, I keep learning things about the singer. Earlier this year, I wrote about the song Black and White, popularized by Three Dog Night but performed a decade and a half earlier by Seeger.

Then there was this: Rainbow Quest (1965–66) was a U.S. television series devoted to folk music. It was on public television, but not in any market I was in. There were 39 episodes. Here’s a description of the last one:

“Way back in the halcyon days of black and white TV, Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger talk about the origins of the Cherokee written language, and sing a Peter La Farge song of the Seneca trust broken in treaties with the U.S. government.” June Carter also appeared on that episode.

You can watch a sample of it HERE.

“Starting in the early 1980s 38 of the shows were made available on VHS, Betamax, and 3/4″ (U-Matic) tapes… The 39th show, featuring Johnny Cash and June Carter, was withheld at the request of Pete Seeger because Johnny Cash was heavily on drugs during his appearance. However, in the late ’90s, this show was released to the public.”

Here are some other episodes, along with the last episode in full.

ABC Wednesday – Round 18

The Lion: Mbube to Wimoweh

Pete Seeger expressed concerns about the copyright laws associated with the song Wimoweh.

Mbube1938Way back in December 2008, Coverville, one of my favorite podcasts, presented an episode, #535, Mbube to Wimoweh – The Lion Sleeps Tonight Cover Story. It’s the narrative of a particular song you’ve probably heard.

This Wikipedia post tells how Mbube was a song written by Solomon Linda and recorded by him originally with the group the Evening Birds for the Gallo Record Company of South Africa in 1939.

In 1949, Alan Lomax, then working as folk music director for Decca Records, brought Linda’s 78 recording to the attention of his friend Pete Seeger of the folk group The Weavers.

In November 1951, after having performed the song for at least a year in their concerts, The Weavers recorded an adapted version with brass and string orchestra and chorus as a 78 single entitled “Wimoweh”, a mishearing of the original song’s chorus of “Uyimbube”, Zulu: You are a lion… It reached Billboard’s top ten and became a staple of The Weavers’ live repertoire. It achieved mass exposure (without orchestra) in their best-selling The Weavers at Carnegie Hall LP album, recorded in 1955 and issued in 1957, and was covered extensively by other folk revival groups…

I always preferred the non-orchestrated version myself; here’s the live reunion version at Carnegie Hall.


In 1961, two RCA producers…engaged Juilliard-trained musician and lyricist George David Weiss to fashion an arrangement for a planned new pop music cover of “Wimoweh”… Weiss wrote English lyrics:

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…
Hush, my darling, don’t fear, my darling, etc.

He also brought in the soprano voice of opera singer Anita Darian to vocalize (reprising Yma Sumac)… her eerie descant sounding almost like another instrument. The Tokens, who loved The Weavers’ version of the song… were appalled and were initially reluctant to sing the new arrangement. But ultimately, they allowed themselves to be persuaded. Issued by RCA in 1961, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” rocketed to number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

Why am I thinking about this again? Because that copyright course I took a couple of months ago had a reference to the history behind the controversy over “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and links to these three YouTube videos:

Linda’s “Mbube” – 1939 (start at 0:21)
The Weavers with Pete Seeger “Wimoweh” – 1952 (start at 1:13)
The Tokens “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” – 1961 (start at 0:15)

Pete Seeger expressed concerns about the copyright laws associated with the song… Although Linda’s name was listed as a performer on the record, The Weavers assumed that the song was traditional. The Weavers’ managers and publisher and their attorneys, however, knew otherwise, because they were contacted by and reached an agreement with Eric Gallo of South Africa… As early as the 1950s, when Linda’s authorship was made clear, Seeger sent him a donation of one thousand dollars and instructed TRO/Folkways to henceforth donate his (Seeger’s) share of authors’ earnings.

But that did not happen.

“In July 2004, as a result of the publicity generated by [Rian] Malan’s Rolling Stone article and the subsequently filmed documentary, the song became the subject of a lawsuit between Solomon Linda’s estate and Disney,” who had used the song, albeit briefly, in the movie The Lion King. Linda’s heirs are finally getting rewarded for the use of a song that had gone through a tremendous transformation.


As mentioned, there’s been a legal settlement between the heirs of Jack Kirby (at minimum, co-creator of half of the early Marvel Comics universe including X-Men, Fantastic Four, and The Avengers) and Disney/Marvel. A lot of fanboys have it wrong that Kirby sued Marvel, or that Kirby’s heirs are just greedy. Here’s the report in Reuters, and Geeky Universe, and Kurt Busiek’s comments on CBR, which begin: “The amount of misinformation presented in this thread is staggering.”

SOMETHING must have spooked Disney/Marvel. They had won several preliminary decisions in lower courts, and the current composition of SCOTUS, where the Kirbys appealed, tends to support the corporations. In spite of it all, Dis/Mar thought it could lose, and worse, set precedent for other creators of that period. Maybe the amicus briefs noted by Busiek helped.

Maybe I can finally start seeing those Marvel movies again, which I had been avoiding until this case was settled. First up, The Avengers.

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