Sometimes timing is everything.
Last August, Sacramento musician and music lover Kim Alexander sent a letter to one of her musical heroes, Pete Seeger, the iconic folksinger / activist known for songs such as “If I had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”
Alexander, also president of the California Voter Foundation, a non-profit and non-partisan group aimed at improving the state’s voting process, hosts a monthly open mic blues and folk jam at Old Ironsides. She wrote to Seeger, she told me, as part of a long-standing tradition.
“I wrote to him on August 26 … which is my late father’s birthday,” she explained in an e-mail. “I try to write a letter to someone who matters to me on my dad’s birthday. This year I wrote to Pete. I wanted to tell him how much he influenced me and to share with him my ‘20 Jam Tips'.”
In the letter, Alexander offered condolences on the passing of Seeger’s wife Toshi, who died in July 2013. She also asked for advice on the best ways to spread the message of making music”and included a printout of her list “Learn to Jam: 20 Tips for Making Music with Friends.” The “jamiquette” list includes tips such as “put together a binder of your songs and start building your repertoire. Bring your binder with you to jams” and “Wait your turn. Jamming is a small “d” democratic pastime.”
Alexander sent the letter not necessarily expecting any sort of acknowledgment. Then again, Alexander said, her sister once wrote the iconic folk singer and did get a reply.
Seeger died Monday, January 27 at the age of 94 and Alexander, like millions, said she spent the day thinking of the legendary musician.
“I was sorry I had never heard back from him, but glad I had shared with him the impact he had on my life,” she said. “I listened to his songs, posted [Facebook] messages and posted YouTube videos.”
Then Alexander learned that the folk singer did write her back, just shortly before his death.
“[On Tuesday] when I checked our mailbox, I saw there was a letter with a return address from Beacon, New York,” Alexander said. “I thought, ‘that’s strange, that’s where Pete Seeger is from.’ Then I opened it.”
In a letter postmarked two days before his death, Seeger repurposed Alexander’s original missive to pen his reply, praising her efforts:
“Dear Kim – I’ve read this article several times. I think your article on jamming is wonderful and should be printed … and issued as a lovely pamphlet, on good paper with good drawings on the cover.”
He also lamented his inability to help.
“I”m 94 and can’t help much. My health is not good and I’m being cared for by my daughter Tinya. You stay well, keep on.”
Seeger signed the letter, dating it January 2014, and added an illustration of a banjo next to his name.
For Alexander, the letter exemplifies her love for–and philosophy on–music.
“I really believe in the power of music to bring people together, and feel a special honor as well as obligation to carry out his wishes and carry on the spirit of making music and singing together,” she said.
Read more about the letter and Alexander’s efforts at her blog.