Peggy Seeger to perform Friday at Centennial Hall

Seeger, married to singer Ewan MacColl until his death in 1989, has been to Juneau on two previous occasions

Posted: Thursday, September 24, 2009

Though folk music legend Pete Seeger has garnered much of the praise and attention directed toward the Seeger name, the musical talent of the Seeger clan is by no means concentrated in one man. Peggy Seeger, his half-sister, and her brother, Mike, both established themselves as strong and influential forces in the folk world, following a trail blazed by their parents, composer Ruth Crawford Seeger and ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger.

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Courtesy Of Ursy Potter
Courtesy Of Ursy Potter

Like her brothers, Seeger's early fluency with the folk genre formed the foundation of a lifetime of musical accomplishment and proficiency. Over the course of her 50-year career, she's mastered the guitar, piano, banjo, autoharp, dulcimer and concertina, and has amassed a vast library of original songs. The library of her work contains more than 20 solo albums, as well as more than 100 collaborative releases with other artists. Her most famous musical partner was her late husband, British folk music giant Ewan MacColl, whom she married at age 24. (MacColl wrote his famous love song "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" for her before they were married.)

Seeger will perform Friday at Centennial Hall in her third Juneau appearance.

Greg McLaughlin, Alaska Folk Festival president, remembers when MacColl and Seeger were the guest artists at the 13th annual Folk Festival. He said that after their performance, Folk Festival Treasurer Bob "Uncle Bob" Pavitt remarked that it was the first time that true folk singers had been honored at that venue; though many musicians and singers had performed in the folk tradition, the duo really hit at the heart of the folk genre, singing the music of the people and their real-life hardships.

The MacColl-Seeger duo was perhaps best known for their "radio ballads" series, a combination of field reporting and songwriting that aired on the BBC in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The pair traveled around to interview different groups of workers, including fishermen, miners and railroad workers, and taped their conversations. They then used those recordings as the basis for composing a set of songs, incorporating the subjects' original words and supplementing the tracks with instrumental music. The series is recognized today for its contribution to radio and to the documentary genre.

MacColl died in 1989, not long after his Juneau appearance, but Seeger made a return trip on her own about 10 years later. Her solo career has been active: She's released a new album every 18 months, on average. Many of her original songs touch on themes of feminism and the environment. The music can be compared to the style of Woody Guthrie, McLaughlin said, blending politics and music together in compositions that frequently question the decisions of the powers that be, and laud the efforts of the common man.

Two of her best-known compositions are "The Ballad of Springhill" and "I'm Gonna Be an Engineer." In 1998, a songbook containing 149 of her musical works was published.

Most recently, she's been living in Boston, teaching songwriting at Northeastern University. But a move back to Great Britain is apparently in the works.

McLaughlin said the Folk Festival wanted to bring Seeger back one more time, before she gets too far away to coax up to Juneau.

Tickets for Friday's show are available at Hearthside and Rainy Retreat Books.

For more on Peggy Seeger, visit www.pegseeger.com.

• Contact Arts & Culture editor Amy Fletcher at 523-2283 or amy.fletcher@juneauempire.com



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