Where Have All the Flowers Gone — selected early recordings, 1960-1968
Where Have All the Flowers Gone (m. Pete Seeger, w. Pete Seeger, Joe Hickerson)
From “An interview with legendary songwriter Pete Seeger,” published in Performing Songwriter magazine, issue 113, November 2008, as quoted by Lydia Hutchinson in the 3 May 2013 article, “Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger!,” published in the same magazine:
I had been reading a long novel—And Quiet Flows the Don—about the Don River in Russia and the Cossacks who lived along it in the 19th century. It describes the Cossack soldiers galloping off to join the Czar’s army, singing as they go. Three lines from a song are quoted in the book: ‘Where are the flowers? The girls plucked them / Where are the girls? They’re all married / Where are the men? They’re all in the army.’ I never got around to looking up the song, but I wrote down those three lines.
“Later, in an airplane, I was dozing, and it occurred to me that the line ‘long time passing’—which I had also written in a notebook—would sing well. Then I thought, ‘When will we ever learn.’ Suddenly, within 20 minutes, I had a song. There were just three verses. I Scotch-taped the song to a microphone and sang it at Oberlin College. This was in 1955.
“One of the students there had a summer job as a camp counselor. He took the song to the camp and sang it to the kids. It was very short. He gave it rhythm, which I hadn’t done. The kids played around with it, singing ‘Where have all the counselors gone? / Open curfew, everyone.’
“The counselor added two actual verses: ‘Where have all the soldiers gone? / Gone to graveyards every one / Where have all the graveyards gone? / Covered with flowers every one.’ Joe Hickerson is his name, and I give him 20 percent of the royalties. That song still brings in thousands of dollars from all around the world.
The account by Pete Seeger of the writing of the song, quoted above, from the November 2008 Performing Songwriter article, leaves out an important part of the story. In writing the song, Seeger had unknowingly borrowed and adapted the melody from an old song with which he was familiar, a lumberjack version of “Drill Ye Tarriers Drill,” a fact which a friend later pointed out.
From the book How Can I Keep From Singing: Pete Seeger, by David King Dunaway, 1990, pp. 186-187, as quoted in a 28 March 2008 Mudcat Café post, by Azizi:
For four or five years, Pete had also carried a musical phrase in his head, like an old man saving string: “long time passing.” He had been struck by its melodic beauty: the four vowel sounds are sequential, opening up the mouth as they are sung. “All I knew was that those were three words I wanted to use in a song; I wasn’t quite sure how, where, or when. Suddenly it fit with this ‘Where have all the flowers gone — long time passing.’ And, five minutes later, I had ‘Long time ago.’ Then without realizing it, I took a tune, a lumberjack version of ‘Drill Ye Tarriers Drill’: it was as unconscious as Woody using ‘Goodnight Irene’ as the tune for ‘Roll On Columbia.’ “
From the article “How Can All the Remembering Be Told?: The tireless Marjorie Lansing Porter was a collector of tall tales and forgotten tunes and the caretaker of our region’s identity,” by Niki Kourofsky, published in October 2014, in Adirondack Life magazine (adirondacklifemag.com)
[Marjorie Lansing] Porter met Pete Seeger at a folk festival in Schroon Lake in the 1950s, though it wasn’t love at first sight. Initially, the folklorist had reservations about the folk singer’s political leanings. But she came around and, in 1960, allowed Seeger to plumb her collection for his record Champlain Valley Songs.
Seeger credits Porter with contributing the tune for one of his more popular songs, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” He explained in a 1990 interview that he thought he’d come up with the melody on his own, until a friend pointed out it was from “one of Marjorie’s old lumberjack songs.” (To prove his point, he warbled: “Johnson says he’ll load more hay, says he’ll load 10 times a day.”)
Wikipedia, citing various sources, says:
- “Additional verses were added by Joe Hickerson in May 1960, who turned it into a circular song.“
- “Joe Hickerson added two more verses with a recapitulation of the first in May 1960 in Bloomington, Indiana.“
Because the more familiar six-verse form of the song was created with the May 1960 additions by Joe Hickerson, I’ve decided to treat it as a 1960 song on this site, though modifications made to the lyric, by who I don’t know, for the 1961 recording by the Kingston Trio were equally influential with respect to later recordings (see “Early lyric variants” directly below).
five-verse lyric, English (1961 Kingston Trio version):
Early lyric variants:
- The original Pete Seeger lyric, or at least the one sung by him in the 1960 Folkways recording, is just the first three verses of the Seeger-Hickerson lyric.
- The 1961 Kingston Trio version doesn’t recapitulate the first verse, so it’s only five verses long. There are also modifications of some lines. The most significant of the changes lie in the replacement of the dissimilar phrases “They’ve taken husbands,” “They’re all in uniform,” and “They’re covered with flowers,” in the second, third, and fifth verses, respectively, with the more homogeneous “Gone to young men,” “Gone for soldiers,” and “Gone to flowers,” each modeled on the “Gone to graveyards” phrase in fourth verse of the Seeger-Hickerson lyric. In the Seeger-Hickerson lyric, only the fourth verse has a “Gone to…” phrase.
- The 1962 Peter, Paul and Mary version is slightly different from both the 1960 Seeger-Hickerson lyric and the 1961 Kingston Trio lyric. Essentially, Peter, Paul and Mary adopt many of the modifications made by the Kingston Trio, but retain both the recapitulation of the first verse at the end, and the word “husbands” from the 1960 Seeger recording, instead of “young men,” in the second verse. However, unlike both the Seeger-Hickerson and Kingston Trio versions, they use “husbands” instead of “young men” in the third verse as well: “Where have all the husbands gone…”
Pete Seeger — originally issued on the 1960 album The Rainbow Quest, (US) Folkways Records FA 2454
The Kingston Trio — issued in December 1961 on the single Capitol 4671, b/w “O Ken Karanga” — I think the recording was also included on the 1962 compilation The Best of the Kingston Trio, (US) Capitol Records T-1705.
Marlene Dietrich — live at the Olympia, in Paris, c. late April 1962
Peter, Paul and Mary — from the group’s debut album Peter, Paul and Mary, (US) Warner Bros. Records W 1449 (also 1449), released in May 1962
Howard Morrison Quartet — from the 1962 single (NZ) La Gloria GSP-051, b/w “I Love Paris” (Cole Porter)
Marlene Dietrich — French and German lyric versions
- “Où vont les fleurs” — French lyric by Francis Lemarque and René Rouzaud
From the 1962 EP Marlène, (France) La Voix De Son Maître 7 EGF
- “Sag mir wo die Blumen sind” — German lyric by Max Colpet
Originally issued on the single (Germany) Electrola E 22 180, b/w “Die Welt war jung (Le Chevalier de Paris)”
I’ve found no evidence that Marlene Dietrich sang the French version, “Qui peut dire où vont les fleurs?,” at a UNICEF concert, in 1962 (as suggested by Wikipedia, in the page on “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”). However, she did record versions in French and English, as well as the German version (see above).
Live performance of “Sag mir wo die Blumen sind” at a UNICEF Gala in Düsseldorf, Germany, on 6 October 1962 — includes a longish introduction to the song in German, English, and French, by Dietrich
(below) live performance, undated
- “Que sont devenues les fleurs” — French lyric version, with words by Guy Béart
The Searchers — from the 1963 album Meet the Searchers, (UK) Pye Records NPL 18086 (and NPL.18086)
Freddie Scott — issued in February 1964 on the single Colpix CP-724 / CP 724, as the B-side of “Where Does Love Go” (Carole King, Gerry Goffin); also included on the 1964 album Freddie Scott Sings and Sings and Sings, Colpix CP 461
Eddy Arnold and The Needmore Creek Singers — recorded on 9 October 1963, according to SecondHandSongs, and released in January 1964 on the album Folk Song Book, (US, Canada) RCA Victor LSP 2811 (Stereo), LPM (Mono)
The Brothers Four — from their 1964 album More Big Folk Hits, (US, Canada) Columbia CS 9013 (Stereo), Columbia CL 9013 (Mono)
Two different 1964 Czech lyric versions of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” (m. Pete Seeger, w. Pete Seeger, Joe Hickerson)
- “Řekni, kde ty kytky jsou” — Czech lyric by Jiřina Fikejzová
- “Kdepak všechny květy jsou” — Czech lyric: Ivo Mach, Jiří Tichota
Judita Čeřovská – “Řekni, kde ty kytky jsou” — from the 1964* single (Czechoslovakia) Supraphon 03176, b/w “Co Dál… (Et Maintenant)”
Spirituál kvintet – “Kdepak všechny květy jsou” — The recording, presumably issued on the Supraphon label, is dated 1964 by the video provider. I’ve yet to verify the date.
Vera Lynn with Tony Osborne and his Orchestra — from the 1964 LP Among My Souvenirs, (UK) His Master’s Voice CSD 1563 (also released on various labels in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands)
- “Minne kukat kadonneet?” — Finnish lyric by Sauvo Puhtila
Kukonpojat — issued 1 April 1965 on the single (Finland) Scandia KS 588, b/w “Siitä On Jo Aikaa”
Åse Kleveland — issued in 1966 on the single (Norway) Polydor NH 66775, as the B-side of “The House of the Rising Sun”
(below) live TV studio performance, dated 1965 by the provider
Joan Baez — live, 29 May 1967, in Milan, Italy — transferred, according to the provider, from a 1970 version of the 1969 album Joan Baez in Italy
Lester Flatt & Early Scruggs — from the 1968 album Changin’ Times, Columbia CS 9596
The December 1968 single A&M 1008, b/w “Fly Me to the Moon,” may be a different edit of the recording, as the time given on the label, 2:30, is half a minute shorter than the album version.
Pete Seeger — live in Sweden, 1968, where he performs the original three-verse lyric version
Shirin — piano solo; published on 11 October 2015 by ahang1001
* The release date of Supraphon 03176 is given as 1964 by Discogs.com, but as 1962 by 45cat.com. Recordings under the title “Řekni, kde ty kytky jsou” were later released by Marie Rottrová (1975), and Marta Kubišová (2004?), among others.
sources and selected other links
Pete Seeger biography:
- Smithsonian Folkways: A Tribute to Pete Seeger (1919-2014)
- Songwriters Hall of Fame
- Pete Seeger – America’s Tuning Fork — posted 9 March 2014 at The Unique Guitar Blog (uniqueguitar.blogspot.com)
Pete Seeger biography, books:
- How Can I Keep From Singing: Pete Seeger, by David King Dunaway — published March 21, 1990 by Da Capo Press (first published March 21, 1981)
- How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger, by David King Dunaway — published March 12, 2009 by Random House Publishing Group [eBook preview available]
song, reference and articles:
- The Mudcat Café – Origins: ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’)
- The Mudcat Café – quote from the book How Can I Keep From Singing: Pete Seeger, by David Dunaway, 1990, pp. 186-187, in a 28 March 2008 Mudcat Café post, by Azizi
- Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger! (alternate title: “Pete Seeger’s story behind “Where Have All the Flowers Gone””) by Lydia Hutchinson — published in Performing Songwriter on 3 May 2013
- How Can All the Remembering Be Told? (subtitle: The tireless Marjorie Lansing Porter was a collector of tall tales and forgotten tunes and the caretaker of our region’s identity), by Niki Kourofsky, published October 2014 in Adirondack Life magazine (adirondacklifemag.com)
- An interview with legendary songwriter Pete Seeger — published in Performing Songwriter magazine, issue 113, November 2008
- Folk Legend Pete Seeger Looks Back — NPR.org interview with Scott Simon; originally aired July 1, 2005 (Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday)
- Remembering Pete Seeger — published by Deep Roots magazine online (deeprootsmag.org), January 29, 2014
- Pete Seeger’s lessons for we who sing, and we who stand nearby, by — posted at North Carolina Folklife Institute (ncfolk.org), February 6, 2014
- “We Shall Overcome”: Remembering Folk Icon, Activist Pete Seeger in His Own Words & Songs — published by Democracy Now! online (democracynow.org), July 3, 2015
- Pete Seeger in my life, by Ellen Rocco — published at North Country Public Radio (blogs.northcountrypublicradio.org) on January 28th, 2014