A Petition For a Pete Seeger Memorial on the National Mall

Dan Efram

- Billboard Biz
Dan Efram is a producer based in New York City whose current projects are a live tribute to “Here Come The Warm Jets,” celebrating the 40th anniversary of the influential Brian Eno album and an as-yet-untitled documentary on the Elephant 6 Recording Company whose founders include The Olivia Tremor Control, The Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel. He also started this petition for a Pete Seeger memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Pete Seeger’s life had a profound impact on millions. He had a deep belief in being able to change the world through song. His idealism, fierce independence and courage should be honored, treasured and used as an inspiration for generations to come by establishing a permanent memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for which I recently created a petition. 
“National Mall and Memorial Parks (NAMA) offers Americans the opportunity to get in touch with our heritage. The sites of NAMA are cherished symbols of our nation, known worldwide and depicted on everything from currency to the nightly news. Thousands of school children, families, foreign visitors, veterans, and recreational users come to the park daily. They take advantage of interpretive programming presented by Park Rangers, park exhibits, publications, orientation services, and panoramic views from the Washington Monument and the Old Post Office Tower. White House, State Department and Congressional staffs use these same services to give foreign dignitaries exposure to American history and culture. “ – The National Park Service
It is excitedly agreed that any number of local naming initiatives are appropriate in the Beacon, N.Y. area. These regional initiatives are a wonderful start. However, Seeger’s legacy is transcontinental, international and deserves permanent respect and acknowledgement from our nation’s government. What better way than in the form of a public memorial?
Growing up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Pete Seeger was all around us.
Though my mom was a Cole Porter and Broadway enthusiast, and my dad spent his time with Beethoven, Bach and Mozart, they could both agree that Pete’s music was good quality music to sing along to with the kids. They taught me well and repeated listening of his “Children’s Concert At Town Hall” introduced me to an irresistible charm and humility, with a message I wouldn’t come to understand until years later. Through “Michael, Row The Boat Ashore” and numerous others, Pete was setting my musical and philosophical standards for years to come. Every subsequent musician had a lot to live up to. 
In grade school, I was introduced to “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” Though drawn to its beautiful, melancholic melody, admittedly I didn’t understand why we were singing about the glory of plants. Hooked on the melody, when the meaning was finally brought to my attention, my innocence took a nosedive.
Pete’s was a world of inclusion.
When I left upstate New York for Boston, he continued to “follow” me and insert himself into my world. As a teen hurtling myself into music, I spent all of my free time devouring it. Musician friends and record store geeks (i.e. my core friends) introduced me to albums from Big Star to Zappa and everything in between. It was then that The Byrds’  “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” took on new meaning. As I started to care more about the “how” and “why” of recordings, their writers and producers, I was really surprised to find that Pete Seeger had composed this song. It just never dawn on me that this song I had always identified with Roger McGuinn and company, certainly an iconic a song if there ever was one, was written by a “folkie.” I was naïve, Pete was so much more than this and somehow he was following me through my lifelong musical journey.
After I moved to New York City in the early 90’s, I was reminded of the sloop Clearwater and its successful missions on many occasions, usually on my trips to visit the family Upstate. The ship, a historic replica of the cargo sailing vessels that dominated the Hudson Valley and New York Harbor in the late 18th century and 19th century, is considered by many to be America’s environmental flagship.
This rail trip upriver remains one of the most beautiful in the world. So idyllic, with the sun glistening off the water, it allows the perfect time to reflect. It was impossible to believe at one point we had let this wonderful river become so polluted that it reeked of sewage and that prior to the Clearwater’s successful educational campaigns, the government had declared it an industrialized river. Looking more closely at the Clearwater Foundation, co-founded by Seeger, I realized why my mom and dad had been preaching his gospel for years. Pete built the sloop in order to call attention to the dirty river; a river that he would help to save. The Foundation still takes thousands of children on a boat ride each year, incorporating environmentalism with the joy of sailing!
A few years ago my clients at the time, The Klezmatics, who had just released an album of Woody Guthrie lyrics mixed with Eastern European melodies, were asked to join Pete Seeger, Natalie Merchant and others for a benefit concert for a much beloved local dance troupe called the Vanaver Caravan at The Ulster Performing Arts Center in Newburgh, N.Y. It was then that I finally got to meet the man. Long ago I had gotten over my fear of meeting the famous, but he was more than famous, this was Pete Seeger; someone who had literally changed millions of lives through song. Heck, he even introduced “We Shall Overcome” to Dr. Martin Luther King! I was so excited, but my nervousness disappeared as this humble giant led us all in the songs we all knew and loved. 
It was during this time and my study of Woody Guthrie that I was able to understand more deeply the effects of Seeger being the victim of a government witch-hunt by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Even though he was subsequently blacklisting from gainful work, he continued fighting for freedom of speech, civil rights and anti-war causes. Eventually, the Nation came to realize the errors of its ways, overturning its contempt of Congress convictions and eventually granting him the National Medal of the Arts via Bill Clinton in 1994. 
“Once called “America’s tuning fork,” Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song.  But more importantly, he believed in the power of community -- to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be. Over the years, Pete used his voice -- and his hammer -- to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation.  And he always invited us to sing along.  For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger.” - President Barack Obama
This is the type of legacy that our Nation was built on and deserves constant reminders of.  Sign the petition. Add your thoughts.
Note: Pete Seeger was due to accept the Inaugural Woody Guthrie Prize from inaugural The Woody Guthrie Center (run by Nora Guthrie) and The Grammy Museum. The event will continue as a musical tribute. Be at Symphony Space in New York City on February 22nd.