For over 60 years, folk artist Peggy Seeger has provided a voice for the politically underserved on both sides of the Atlantic.
Seeger is a multi-talented performer, playing 5-string banjo, guitar, Appalachian dulcimer, autoharp, English concertina, and piano. With those instruments, and her moral compass, Seeger has compiled a still-growing songbook informed by the folk traditions of her native US and her UK home.
It’d be an understatement to say that the Seeger family tree is ripe with musical talent. Peggy’s mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, was a modernist composer and the first woman recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship. Her father Charles was a musician and educator, and brother Mike and half-brother Pete were key figures in the American folk revival of the 1960s.
In the 1950s, Peggy Seeger began to carve out a legacy separate from her parents and siblings by spending most of career in the British folk music scene. After trips to Communist China and Soviet Russia prompted political pressure in the states, Seeger left her native New York in 1956 for London. The move placed Seeger near many folk music traditions’ points of origin, creating ample work and inspiration for the budding folklorist and songwriter.
Seeger’s British folk career is known in part for her working relationship with her late husband Ewan MacColl. In fact, she’s the face behind his best-known composition, and Roberta Flack’s breakout hit, “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.” The couple collaborated on over 30 albums and co-created the Radio Ballads, a series of BBC radio shows that ran from 1957-’64 and used folk songs and stories to draw attention to contemporary topics.
Whether performing solo or with family, including collaborations with current spouse Irene Pyper-Scott, Seeger has always upheld past traditions while fearlessly tackling socio-political injustices. Many of her compositions, including women’s rights anthem “Gonna Be an Engineer,” challenge the status quo while imagining a better world for the common people. Seeger comes from a place of empathy in these songs, casting herself as a friend and fellow sufferer. As her “Song of Myself” puts it: “Of miners and weavers, of rebels and dreamers; When I sing of my comrades I sing of myself.”
Seeger remains a champion for the downtrodden in these contentious times—needless to say, her email newsletter has not been short on material since last November. For fighting the good fight as an octogenarian, Seeger is perhaps the quintessential living legend among folk musicians.