On Tuesday, July 9th, the world lost a beloved cornerstone of the traditional music world: Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger, aged 91. Toshi was the wife of Pete Seeger or–perhaps more fittingly–Pete Seeger was the husband of Toshi. She passed away just a few days shy of their 70th Wedding Anniversary.
As Mark Moss (SingOut!) wrote in his tribute, “[Toshi] was a mother, an organizer, an activist and filmmaker … and an essential part of all of her husband’s work.” (singout.org/toshi-seeger-passes)
Toshi was a dear friend to many, including me. And she was tough as nails. She had to be.
Pete was on the road performing and doing benefits for countless organizations through most of their married life, and Toshi kept the home fires burning in their modest log cabin home perched above the Hudson River.
Years ago Pete tacked up a cartoon on one of those cabin walls. It showed a very exhausted housewife holding two children in one arm, washing the dishes with the other, wearing a dirty apron, phone pressed to one ear, saying, “No, my husband’s not at home right now. He’s off saving the world.”
Pete crossed out the word “he’s” and scribbled his own name above it.
Toshi worked tirelessly behind the scenes throughout Pete’s public life. Pete was the sails. Toshi was the rudder that kept them both afloat. She handled most of the details of their shared life and helped keep Pete humble.
As Pete got older, Toshi made sure that someone was always keeping a close eye on him when he was out on the road. On one occasion I was elected to be that person. When she learned that Pete and I would be performing at the same conference in California, she asked me to pick him up at the airport, stay at the same place, and drive Pete wherever he needed to be.
In later years, as this amazingly strong and independent woman needed twenty-four hour care, it was Pete and their daughter Tinya watching over Toshi.
I learned about Toshi’s passing from a neighbor walking her dog by our home yesterday. She asked if I had heard about Toshi Seeger passing away. I hadn’t.
My neighbor heard about her death through what my First Nation friends call the “moccasin express.” A sister had died, and the people knew it. Which is how Toshi lived her life: Close to the ground and close to the people. Just how it should be.
There will never be another Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger, but her life and legacy will no doubt inspire countless others to walk their talk in her footsteps.