Pete Seeger leaves inspirational legacy behind

Pete Seeger, the folk music icon who died Monday at 94, last played New Orleans in 2009. New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival producer-director Quint Davis introduced Seeger, who was then days away from his 90th birthday, as the festival’s grandfather.

Davis linked Seeger to the Jazz and Heritage Festival via the folk singer’s co-founding of the Newport Folk Festival with George Wein. Music impresario Wein subsequently launched the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Seeger performed on the Acura Stage in 2009 with a six-piece group including his grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger; folk duo Mike and Ruthy; and Preservation Hall creative director and sousaphone player Ben Jaffe.

Seeger left much of the singing to others that day, especially his grandson. Nonetheless, the performance adhered to Seeger’s musical and activist legacy, including an anti-war song, a labor song and a Jimmy Reed blues classic reinvented with an environmental message. Seeger’s final Jazz Fest appearance ended with Woody Guthrie’s populist anthem, “This Land Is Your Land.”

“That’s my grandfather,” Tao Rodriguez-Seeger said. “We picked him up on the road hitchhiking.”

Seeger also appeared at the Jazz Fest in 1995 and 1989.

During his 2009 visit to New Orleans, Seeger made time to join another American music institution, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, at Preservation Hall for a recording session.

In the months before to the session, Jaffe was never quite sure if Seeger, despite his enthusiasm for the band’s guest star-filled 2010 “Preservation” album project, would participate.

“It was always, ‘If he gets to New Orleans and he feels like it, he’ll come by,’ ” Jaffe recalled in 2010.

But then Seeger’s Jazz Fest appearance finally provided the ideal opportunity to record with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The band was rehearsing the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome,” in the hall’s courtyard when Seeger and his grandson arrived.

“Because of the role that Pete Seeger’s music played in the civil rights movement,” Jaffe said, “and the role Preservation Hall played in the civil rights movement, that was one of the highlights of my life. It was the civil rights movement that brought my parents to New Orleans.”

“We Shall Overcome” is one of three Seeger-Preservation Hall collaborations on the deluxe edition of “Preservation.”

“We did the songs one time,” Jaffe said. “Pete shook hands with everybody, said he had a great time and got back into his car and that was it.”

Seeger fan and New Orleans resident Ani DiFranco is also featured on “Preservation.” He made a guest appearance on her 2012 album, “Which Side Are You On?”

DiFranco has performed at Seeger’s Great Hudson River Revival, aka the Clearwater Festival, in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., for the past 20 years. She also appeared at his 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden in 2009.

“Pete is a truly inspirational person,” DiFrano said in December.

Seeger’s association with Jazz Fest also includes Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band’s emotional 2006 appearance at the first post-Hurricane Katrina festival. Springsteen had just released “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” a collection of traditional songs and spirituals identified with Seeger.