January 27, 2014

We are saddened by the passing of folksinger and activist Pete Seeger. In the 1950s, Charles and Pete were neighbors and compatriots, radicals of the Left. Charles had joined the Danskammer Farm Collective, lead by Les Rice who penned "The Banks of Marble," a song that denounced the exploitation of workers. Pete sang it with enthusiasm. The Farm was near Newburgh, across the Hudson River (for the cleanup of which he worked tirelessly) from Beacon where the Seeger family lived in a log cabin built by Pete himself. For years it had no running water, so Pete and Toshi (Pete's wife, deceased on July 9, 2013) fetched it in buckets from a stream.

During those years at the Farm (where the Keller family lived from 1951 to 1961) were hootenannies at which Pete sang, and apple pickers and farm workers organized. We kids (Marthe, Dan, Katy) will never forget sitting at Pete's feet, singing songs that will be with us always, and Pete's big boot pounding the rhythm.

Charles illustrated a book of Pete's political songs. But before that, there was a story they would tell, that Charles gave Pete a graphic design assignment, his first job ever. (Charles was the older one.) We surmise that their project was for the Bolshevik-inspired New Masses.

During one of Pete's international tours of Europe in the mid-1960s, the Seegers visited the Kellers at their home in Rome where he had come to play a concert. His voice had given out (jetlag and laryngitis) so he whistled his way through the concert to huge applause. Audiences loved him the world over.

When Charles died in 2006, Pete called us to say that he was sorry he could not attend the memorial, but that he would always remember Charles for giving him his first job and how that had been the beginning of a long friendship.

During the 1950s, Charles made sketches -- thumbnailed here; click to see full-size -- of Pete in action. We are considering making them available for purchase. Please contact us at charles@keller-email.com if you're interested.