Toshi Seeger plowed through life like a taskmaster and activist of the highest form. The saying, “Behind every great man is a woman.” may have been written for her. She followed Pete to the ends of the earth and to a Hudson River rustic home built with their hands and those of their friends. She lived in a tent for a few years, washing diapers over a hot cauldron while the cabin was being built. Toshi put the SNCC singers on the road for 2 years. She put Pete on the road. She managed a household and a career that went from folk to pop to legend to priceless. She cooked, cleaned, boiled the maple syrup, raised kids and relatives. She lugged film equipment all over the world with Pete and made films of world music. Pete’s career would have taken completely different turns without Toshi’s support, wisdom, elbow grease, stamina and willingness to help him implement his own dreams. We would have heard plenty from Pete-a one of a kind song maker/activist in his own right, but who knows where his music and activism career would have taken him without his other half?
Toshi was a straight shooter, which may be why we took a liking to each other. In the 1980’s she phone me a few times and asked, “Who are some women are out there in the folk scene that I haven’t heard of and need to have at the Hudson River Revival?” I named several folks including Ani Defranco and Tracy Chapman. I reminded her of Ola Belle Reed still singing up a storm and brought Pasty Montana, the first woman in country music to sell one million records, to the Revival.
After seeing the documentary on Pete, “The Power of Song”, I felt strongly that there NEEDED to be a documentary on Toshi. I wrote her and spoke with her family, but it was simply not something she was interested in – taking public credit for all of her work. I visited a few times to see Toshi specifically, took food, hung out a bit. She was OK talking about her life around the dinner table, but her daughter Tinya put it best. Tinya said, “She’s spent her life not taking public credit for her work, so chances are she’s not going to change that now-it just doesn’t feel comfortable to her.” I simply had to respect that, while the list of her accomplishments and contributions to the folk music world, civil rights movement, environmental movement in the Hudson Valley, social justice and so many other things would certainly make for great reading, watching or listening.
About 9 years ago Toshi and Pete came to N. Bethesda, MD so he could participate in our tribute to Ella Jenkins concert at the Music Center at Strathmore. Pete was nervous about the late sound check and kept asking me if he would get to check a microphone. Toshi said, “Pete, Cathy’s in charge, you don’t have to worry about it.” That’s about as high a compliment as you could get from a woman who quietly yet effectively took charge of so much.
Many people know that my emails end with “Today’s Hats”, which often change, but look a little like this:
Today’s Hats: Half-Marathon Runner, Tunester, Songster, Happiness Creator, Event Instigator, Social Music Conductor!, CEO-Chief EVERYTHNG Officer @ Cathy & Marcy World Enterprises (including hole puncher), Optimist, Recycler, Cycler, Travel Agent, Bookkeeper, Shipping Clerk, Secretary, Label Manager, Artist Rep., Grammy Winner, Banjo Player, Pro Bono Advisor, Satirist, Content Creator, Dishwasher, Salt Lover, Songwriter, Activist, Chameleon, Hat Changer
Toshi Seeger wore more hats than anyone I ever met. I will think of her fondly and send love and hugs to Pete, Tinya and the rest of the family.
You might find this article interesting with more details on Toshi’s early life: