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Village Musicians and Music Lovers Mourn Pete Seeger

 Pete Seeger, pictured here in 2009 in Hunts Point Riverside Park, died on Jan. 28, 2014. He was 94.
Pete Seeger, pictured here in 2009 in Hunts Point Riverside Park, died on Jan. 28, 2014. He was 94.
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Getty Images/Astrid Stawiarz

GREENWICH VILLAGE — For the musicians and devotees of the neighborhood folk music scene, the death of revered singer and songwriter Pete Seeger on Tuesday was the end of the man whose artistry and activism gave birth to their own.

George Usher, a long-time Village resident and musician, said, "It really does feel like a death in the family."

Usher, 58, said local musicians have already reached out to one another to mourn Seeger's death.

"This feels a little more closer to home for some reason. He's sort of the father of us all," he said.

As a musician and activist, Seeger was "the template for just about every Greenwich Village musician on some level."

"Everyone who does benefit concerts is doing a Pete Seeger," Usher said. "Everyone who does traditional songs is doing a Pete Seeger. And he also wrote his own stuff, so he covered all the ground that any musician could ever try to."

For Village musicians, and activist musicians, Usher said, Seeger was the start of everything, "like the first stool that was first ever made to sit on."

"The scene, and I think the world, needed someone like Pete Seeger... Someone who was almost like Orpheus," Usher added. "A mythological creature who was trying to make the world better."

Seeger meant a lot not just to performers, but to the people who worked behind the scenes in the Village music world.

Jeanne Stahlman encountered Seeger in 2003, when she was stage managing a show at Joe's Pub honoring the protest songs of the Vietnam War.

Seeger had been asked to participate in the show, but he never responded to confirm that he was able to do it. Then the night of the show — a very rainy March night, Stahlman recalled — Seeger "just showed up."

"With his banjo on his back and his wife in her yellow rain slicker carrying his guitar," Stahlman said. "Isn't that amazing?"

Stahlman spent many years promoting shows at the Bottom Line, a Village music institution that shuttered in 2003 when they were evicted by New York University for not paying rent.

Stahlman approached Seeger after one of his last performances.

"I said, 'Pete, that was so great. It's so nice to hear you sing,'" Stahlman recalled. "And he said, 'To tell you the truth, they don't notice, but I'm not really singing. I just call out the first line and the audience just sings!'"

Stahlman said Seeger laughed ruefully, saying "I'm 90 years old, I don't have a voice anymore."

"I don't think you could have found somebody more humble and normal and down-to-earth," Stahlman added. "I think you could find a thousand people who had a similar experience. I think everybody felt that way."

Stahlman grew up near Newport, Rhode Island, and as a young girl first saw Seeger in the 1960s at the Newport Folk Festival performing "We Shall Overcome."

"When I met him at the Bottom Line, that was just a huge honor," Stahlman said. "He definitely, in my life, ran all the way through it."