I was listening to my favorite podcast not hosted by Arthur. It is a music podcast, which should be no surprise. The second tune in the set was a song called Passing Through. I went to the website to see to whom it was attributed as the original artist of the song, and it said Leonard Cohen. I said to myself – I often talk to myself – “There is NO WAY that song was originally done by Leonard Cohen.”
My certitude came from the fact that my late father used to sing that song when he performed in my hometown of Binghamton back in the 1960s. While I didn’t know all of the specific origins, I did know that his song selection was established in the late 1950s and early 1960s from albums by people such as Woody Guthrie, Harry Belafonte, Odetta and Pete Seeger. Cohen came into prominence as a singer/songwriter later in the 1960s.
I thought maybe it was a song by Guthrie, whose Worried Man/Ain’t Gonna Be Treated This Way medley caught me unawares when I heard the musical Woody Guthrie’s American Song caught me unawares when I heard it at Capital Rep theater a couple years after my father died.
But in fact, it was Seeger who initially popularized Passing Through. Reading this account about songwriter Dick Blakeslee: “In late 1947 or early 1948, he and Dick Crolley sent a home-cut disc of their compositions to People’s Songs in New York. Blakeslee’s ‘Passing Through’ was chosen for publication. Pete Seeger learned the song and sang it throughout Henry Wallace’s 1948 presidential campaign. Today, ‘Passing Through’ remains an enduring folk standard.” You can hear Cisco Houston’s early take and Leonard Cohen’s 1973 version of the song here.
My father did a wicked imitation of FDR as he spoke/sang “One world must come”, then sang “from World War II”. My sister Leslie and I would join my father on the chorus of Passing Through when we performed with him in the latter part of the 1960s. My father did not sing the added-on Lincoln verse.
Passing through, passing through,
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue.
Glad that I ran into you;
Tell the people that you saw me passing through.