Saturday, March 28, 2015

FILE- In this Sept. 21, 2013 file photo, Pete Seeger performs on stage during the Farm Aid 2013 concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Seeger, who died on Jan 27, 2014 at age 94, will be honored with a few early event on Saturday, May 3, 2014, what would have been his 95th birthday. Suggestions for memorializing the singer/activist ranger from renaming a park in his home town to naming the new bridge that will replace the Tappan Zee bridge across the Hudson River in New York after him. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File) (HANS PENNINK)

FILE- In this May 5, 2006 file photo, folk singer Pete Seeger is photographed in his home town of Beacon, N.Y. Plans abound to honor Seeger months after the folk legend’s death, with a few early events planned on what would have been his 95th birthday on Saturday, May 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File) (FRANK FRANKLIN II)

FILE - In this May 5, 2006 file photo, folk singer Pete Seeger plays his banjo in Beacon, N.Y. As what would have been his 95th birthday approaches, some wonder what would be a fitting tribute to the life of the singer/activist who was known for shunning personal accolades. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File) (FRANK FRANKLIN II)

FILE- In this Oct. 21, 2011, file photo activist musician Pete Seeger, 92, right, marches with nearly a thousand demonstrators sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street protests to hold a brief acoustic concert in New York’s Columbus Circle. The singer and activist, who revered the masses and declined any personal honors in life, will be celebrated with a few early events planned on what would have been his 95th birthday, Saturday, May 3, 2014. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) (John Minchillo)

FILE - In this April 4, 1961 file photo, Pete Seeger, with a banjo slung over his shoulder, is accompanied by his wife, Toshi, as he arrives at the federal court in New York for sentencing on a conviction for contempt of Congress. The town of Beacon, N.Y. plans to honor the couple by renaming a riverside park in their honor, which is seen as a fitting tribute since they were instrumental in converting the former dump into Riverfront Park. (AP Photo) (AP)
Admirers wrestle with how to honor Pete Seeger
If he had his druthers, how would Pete Seeger want to be honored? Admirers bat ideas

Posted on May 2, 2014 at 3:47 a.m.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Someday, it might be possible to take the Pete Seeger Bridge to Pete Seeger Park and listen to Pete Seeger music by the Pete Seeger statue.

Plans abound to honor the recently deceased folk legend, with a few early events planned on what would have been his 95th birthday Saturday. But trying to honor a hardcore egalitarian like Seeger raises some questions.

How do you single out a singer who revered the masses? Is it OK to bestow honors on Seeger that he declined during his life? And would the old eco-warrior want his name on a $3.9 billion bridge serving suburban car culture?

“He did everything possible to not take credit for anything. It was always a group effort,” said George Mansfield, a council member in Beacon, the Hudson River city near where Seeger and his late wife, Toshi, lived for decades. “People say ‘How do you best memorialize Pete?‘ and everyone agrees the best way to memorialize him is to continue what he started.”

Seeger, who died in January at age 94, was known around the world for his activism and gentle voice on such signature songs as “If I Had a Hammer,” ‘‘Turn, Turn, Turn,” ‘‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” He was also known closer to home for his deep connection to the Hudson River and his tireless efforts in the movement to clean it up.

That’s why Beacon plans to rename its riverside park for Seeger and his wife, who were instrumental in converting the former dump into Riverfront Park. And more controversially, some people want to put Seeger’s name on the massive span that will replace the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson just north of New York City.

“I just imagine a family driving across the bridge years from now and some kids says, ‘Who is Pete Seeger?‘ That kind of thing. That would be cool,” said Bill Swersey, a New York City resident who liked the bridge-naming idea so much he created a petition that has more than 14,000 signatures.

Critics say naming a bridge for Seeger that carries some 140,000 cars a day between sprawling Westchester and Rockland counties would fly in the face of the singer’s live-simply ethos. One counterproposal has been to rename the more ecologically friendly Walkway Over the Hudson about 45 miles upriver.

Seeger declined such honors in his life, so the idea of lending his name to bridges sits uncomfortably with some.

“He hated the spotlight,” said family friend Thom Wolke, who believes living up to Seeger’s ideals is a more fitting remembrance.

Mansfield said that Seeger’s family approved of renaming the Beacon park, provided Toshi was included. He said the family also will have a say in what sort of sculpture or plaque will grace the renamed “Pete and Toshi Seeger Riverfront Park,” which could be anything from a representational statue to something abstract. One Seeger family member, grandson Kitama Cahill-Jackson, said he’s for naming anything that keeps his grandfather’s name alive.

“Whenever someone wanted to name something after him I’d ask him, and he’d say, ‘Do it when I’m dead,” Cahill-Jackson recalled. “And he’s dead, so I think this is a good time to do it.”

Cahill-Jackson is among the people who will honor Seeger in the most obvious way: with song. He is raising money for Seeger Fest, a five-day series of music and events in the Hudson Valley and New York City — including a concert at Lincoln Center’s outdoor performance area — starting July 17.

Seeger’s birth date on Saturday will be marked with shows featuring his songs in Woodstock, New York, and St. Paul, Minnesota, and Wolke organized a show in Fontenet, France. The shows will be held in different places with different artists, but the thought is the same.

“I think part of me is doing this because I want to keep them alive,” Cahill-Jackson said. “And I’m hoping that weekend, they’ll be alive.”