Friday, April 4, 2008

Peggy Seeger and Folk Music


I will be in New Orleans from Saturday until Wednesday. I will be checking my e mails if anyone needs to contact me.

Two events on Saturday night.

The concert at the Shamrock Club a fund raiser for the Central Ohio Folk Festival.

The Raineys are at Papa Joe's in Ashville.

Peggy Seeger and Folk Music

South Bend Tribune

Peggy Seeger keeps traditions alive By JEREMY D. BONFIGLIO Tribune Staff Writer

Peggy Seeger still feels an obligation to music.That’s why the folk singer who turns 73 in June will spend much of the year on tour.“There’s a duty to the traditional songs because I feel I still do them well,” she says by telephone from her home in Boston. “Writing songs for my own time, I find that’s another kind of duty.”

Seeger, who performs Sunday at The Old Bag Factory in Goshen and Monday in the studio at Goshen College’s WGCS-FM (91.1) The Globe, continues to blend traditional folk music with her passion for social issues.“I have a song about President Bush. Would you like to hear the chorus?” Seeger says before singing, “Impeach, impeach that’s what we got to do/Impeach, impeach let’s get Dick Cheney, too.”“I sang that recently,” she adds, “and this man came up to me and said ‘I’m a Republican and Bush is my President, but dang that’s a good chorus.’ ”Seeger has recorded 22 solo albums and participated in more than 100 others. Her most familiar songs include “Gonna Be an Engineer,” which has become an anthem of the women’s movement, and “The Ballad of Springhill,” about the 1958 Springhill, Nova Scotia, mining disaster.Her musically gifted family, however, brings her the most attention.“I knew it was different from other people’s lives but for me it was normal,” Seeger says. “I didn’t have a high school social life because I would rather go home and play music with my family.”Her mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, was a composer and piano teacher who became the first woman to be awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship Award for Music. Her father, Charles Louis Seeger, was a pioneer of ethnomusicology at the University of California Los Angeles. One brother, Mike, is a virtuoso on several dozen instruments. Then there’s her brother, Pete Seeger, considered by many to be the father of the 1946 American folk revival. In fact, at 72, Peggy is still referred to as Pete Seeger’s sister.“He has been one of the dearest people in my life,” she says. “If people still want to call me Pete Seeger’s sister, that’s fine by me.”That turned out to be good news for Denny McOwen, host of “The Folk Revival Era” on WGCS, when he approached Peggy about participating in the radio station’s tribute to Pete.“It seemed like it would be nice to have someone here who could talk about Pete, and we sort of stumbled upon his sister Peggy,” McOwen admits. “That evolved into bringing her here for a concert as well as the radio program.”Peggy Seeger will discuss the life, music and social activism of her brother during the first segment of Monday’s live radio broadcast, followed by her own stories of family, social activism and music.“Being a part of that family, folk music is just ingrained in them,” McOwen says, “but she covers a diverse mix in the folk genre. Part of that is because she lived in England for 30 years, so in addition to an Appalachian sound, she has tapped into the folk music of England, Scotland and Ireland as well.”Sunday’s concert, which is being sponsored by WGCS, will include an eclectic mix of music even though Seeger says she won’t know which songs to play until she gets in front of the audience.“I just have too many songs to choose from,” she says. “I’m not bragging, I’m complaining.”Seeger’s music education began at home when she discovered her own musical ear.“When I was about 2 years old, I was in the hospital with strep throat,” she says. “My parents weren’t allowed to see me, but they could hear me singing down the hallway. So I think I started pretty early.”She began to play the piano at 7. By 11, she was transcribing music and becoming conversant with counterpoint and harmony.Between the ages of 12 and 35, Seeger learned to play the guitar, 5-string banjo, autoharp, Appalachian dulcimer and English concertina. She says she also tried the mandolin and fiddle without the same success.“I think my family celebrated when I lent the fiddle to a friend and it was never returned,” she says.Seeger attended Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass., for two years where she began singing folk songs professionally. In 1955, she backpacked across Europe, Russia and China before settling in England.“I think I copied my brother Pete right through college, but when I went to England, they didn’t know about Pete,” Seeger says. “It was the right time, the right place, and I was the right nationality and the right sex..”In March 1956, she met British dramatist-singer-songwriter Ewan MacColl in a basement room in Chelsea, London.He wrote the song “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” to mark the occasion, which became a No. 1 single for Roberta Flack in 1972.Seeger remained in London making music and three children with MacColl. Following his death in 1989, Seeger returned to the United States. In 2006, she moved to Boston to teach songwriting at Northeastern University.Although she doesn’t plan to stop making and performing her own songs, Seeger says helping students discover the music within themselves has been surprisingly gratifying.“I believe there’s a place in the brain for music alone,” Seeger says. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a child who didn’t like music. It’s visceral. It’s something your body wants to take part in. We all have it in us. It’s just a matter of realizing that it’s here to use it.”

Staff Writer Jeremy D. Bonfiglio:

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