Seeger strives for a friendly diversity in her folk songs

Posted: Thursday, March 16, 2000

When women were still struggling to find their political voice, Peggy Seeger wrote ``Gonna Be an Engineer,'' which became one of the anthems of the women's movement.

``I wrote that song in two hours before a political theater show in 1960. I've played it 4,000 times since then,'' Seeger said. ``It caught on rather quickly.''

At 65, Seeger is still mixing politics and music in the studio and on stages across the country.

Tonight the prolific songwriter and performer takes the stage at Centennial Hall to help raise money for the Alaska Folk Festival 2000. Seeger will play guitar, piano, keyboard, concertina and dulcimer.

``I'm not sure if music changes political thinking, but it does wiggle its way into the areas of doubt and solidifies one's point of view. I've seen some unbelievable changes in the world,'' said Seeger, sister to folk icon Pete.

Seeger wrote ``Gonna Be an Engineer,'' her most famous song, when she was living in London with singer and songwriter Ewan MacColl. The year before she relinquished her rights as an American citizen and became a British subject.

The young American became a political exile while visiting the People's Republic of China in 1957, when she refused to return to the United States as requested.

``I wish I had kept better contact with the States during that time,'' said Seeger, who received amnesty in 1994 and returned permanently to the United States after 35 years.

For decades, the MacColl-Seeger collaboration made waves on both sides of the Atlantic. By blending political content in film music, radio commentary, theater and songwriting, they quickly became a pivotal force behind the British folk movement.

On her own, Seeger recorded several albums and became a musical icon to the women's movement.

``Many women singers are very strident. The trick is to make music that men and women can respect,'' said Seeger. ``I do not want to intimidate or to make men think I'm hostile. It's a tricky business.''

The women's movement, according to Seeger, has come a long way since its early years when many women viewed men as the enemy.

``Today, women are just not saying that men are lousy, which happened in the early days. We're beginning to celebrate the differences between the two genders,'' said Seeger, who raised three children with MacColl.

After MacColl's death, Seeger left Britain and settled in North Carolina. Since then, she has published several books and recorded three new albums. The multi-instrumentalist also tours frequently.

``Music moves people in a different way than reading about politics,'' said Seeger. ``If you have a nice little phrase and people go away singing it, it embeds itself in their heads - much more than a political speech. Music makes people vibrant.''

The concert this evening begins at 7 p.m. at Centennial Hall. Tickets are available in advance at Hearthside Books for $12 and at the door for $14.

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