Peggy Quotes

For me, the Peggy Seeger concert was a trip to the past -- so many coffee houses, hootenannies, and sing-alongs in the '50's and '60's, so much outrage, so much hope, so many dreams. It was a reminder of our heritage of ballads and story songs -- of our country and its roots in the Old World. - Lucy V. Parker

Peggy Quotes 2

On the exceptional Odd Collection, Peggy offers up 18 original songs - and one spoken word performance - that reveal her to be a perspicacious commentator on both personal and political issues and a gifted composer, lyricist and singer.
- Mike Regenstreif


Memoir Reviews


The Bookseller
First Time Ever is the #1 most picked non-fiction book in the yearly roundups. 

#23 Peggy Seeger - First Time Ever

Sunday Times
Peggy Seeger - First Time Ever

Peggy Seeger - First Time Ever (Chosen by Jackie Kay)


The first time ever he saw her face. Peggy Seeger talks to Sarfraz Manzoor about birth of an iconic song, Ewan MacColl and late lesbian love. 
The Times - Saturday Review (pdf)


Sukhdev Sandhu's rave review for the publication of the paperback was reprinted by The Guardian (pdf)


'A fascinating memoir, written with vividness, clarity and humour'
Scottish Herald

+++ best part of any story is in the telling, and so it is for Peggy Seeger’s memoir, First Time Ever (Faber & Faber) which was published last December. Seeger, the half-sister of legendary folk artist Pete Seeger, has written about her life with wit and sentimentality. Her story features a large cast of characters including family members, friends and musicians. Though she has amassed many accomplishments as a folk musician, most people may only know of Seeger as the partner of Ewan MacColl, the songwriter, historian and composer of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,”, written for her in the first year of their liaison. But her achievements as an artist go much further and now, in her 82nd year, we get to enjoy the stories of her life from the front row.

Seeger was born in 1935 in New York City. Her father was Charles (Charlie) Seeger, a composer and ethnomusicologist. Her mother, Charles’s second wife, was Ruth Crawford, a piano teacher and classical composer who was a member of the so-called “ultra-moderns,” which included American composer Elliott Carter. And although Peggy Seeger loved and respected her mother’s artistic successes in spite of having children after the age of 33, she reveals that her mother “read Perry Mason detective stories . . . [and] drank oceans of black coffee.” Seeger lamented the lack of a closer connection, noting, “I only knew her folk music persona, her classical piano playing, her attempts to cook.” Seeger was raised in a musical house along with her brother Mike and sister, Barbara, “a tangle of children," each two years apart. Pete was the elder son who used to visit his siblings and sing them songs he had learned while touring the world. Writes Seeger, “Pete was as good an education for us as the teachers.”

Seeger writes affectionately about her childhood which, as she grew up with so many musicians in her family, set the foundation for her life as an artist, claiming that “at two-years-old songs entered my bloodstream.” She started playing instruments at the age of six and unconsciously made a commitment to learning folk songs. Her entire memoir is full of her love for folk songs, not only from the United States, but also from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. All through her book she drops nuggets of music history while quoting lyrics to be read aloud, and making strong historical connections between traditional folk tunes and their roots. Once asked where she got her versions from, she replied, “The songs: I am theirs and they are mine while I’m here . . . I have nurtured them like children and brought them forth with me in time.” Seeger released her first album in 1955, Folk Songs of Courting and Complaint (Smithsonian/Folkways), recorded just after the death of her mother in November 1953.

But the passages that have the most impact for me are Seeger’s assessments of herself, written with sobering frankness. Of her teenage years she says, “I was a lolloping, spontaneous loner who studied, made no friends, who sewed most of her own clothing . . . Could a girl grow up in the middle-class suburb in the Western world like that now . . . adventurous and ready for anything?” Upon meeting MacColl at an auction, in 1956, “I tottered in on high heels to meet my next thirty-three years. One woman and a tribe of older men and so much smoke in the room that I didn’t notice him at first.” It is to this part of Seeger’s story that she devotes the most pages. When she met him, MacColl was married,  and nearly 15 years her senior but with an “intensity of passion” that absorbed her immeasurably during their entire time together. (She married him in 1977, after their long courtship, for tax reasons.) As she admits early on in the book, “ . . . I’m holding myself over a flame in this memoir hoping to discover a definitive identity”. In fact Seeger’s book occasionally reads as therapy: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Deep questions that she asks but doesn’t necessarily answer to her own satisfaction or ours. Perhaps Seeger is still a work in progress.

Nevertheless, her demeanor about life in general is very clear. Her attitude about judging one’s choices is practically absent, as she walks through life with an “of course; why not?” approach. Consequently, offers of trips to Europe or tours of Scotland on a scooter in poor weather gave her the opportunity to live spontaneously and in the moment, a freedom she granted herself often with the help and insistence of the passionate MacColl. But it wasn’t easy to have such an intense relationship, which included two children out of wedlock and three illegal abortions, and also pursue a life in music. Seeger’s remarkably earnest about her own feelings, which she characterizes with brutal cynicism, but she always found a way out of the emotional turmoil of loving an older man. She writes, “Our work saved us, the politics, the recording projects, the next Radio Ballad, the new songs we were learning and writing.” Clearly the bond between Seeger and MacColl was incredibly strong, enriched by their mutual love of meeting people around the world, a shared view of politics (on the left), and the all-important performing in front of an audience.

Seeger’s key thoughts about living with MacColl come late in the book. “Ewan was easy to be with," she writes. "Night and day together for thirty years and I was never bored.” Then a terrific memory: in 1972, he receives a royalty cheque for $75,000, the same year their daughter Kitty is born and everything changes for the better (at least financially speaking): “It’s the end of twelve years of scraping, worrying, having to take every single paying job.” The royalty was partially earned from Roberta Flack’s version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” recorded in 1969 but made a hit three years later, when it was featured in Clint Eastwood’s movie Play Misty For Me, his directorial debut. Seeger admits, “As per usual, we’d never heard of her . . . " 

Seeger’s book of recollection is full of great tales about her life, but I would have liked more stories about her brother Mike, a fine musician and composer in his own right, and about Pete, who died in 2014 at the age of 94. She writes fondly of her siblings, especially during their dying days. Now 82, Peggy Seeger has found a kind of peace with herself as the eldest among the Seeger clan, which still reunites every two years. I’m confident that she’ll continue to enrich her family with more stories as much as her memoir has enriched ours. A curated album based on the songs she writes about in her book is available on Bandcamp.

–John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, and musician. He's the author of Frank Zappa FAQ: All That's Left To Know About The Father of Invention (Backbeat Books).


This whirling memoir follows the folksinger and activist through international tours, crises in her famous musical family, and a long, all-consuming relationship with the British singer Ewan MacColl. Seeger’s conversational prose has a flair for capturing the common (a 1938 Chevy “had a vertical fish-mouth and a fat lady’s rump”) and the cataclysmic; remembering her mother’s early death, she writes, “I try to see and hear things for her, to lure her spirit back from the lost body.” Colorful characters flit in and out, and, remembering them, Seeger, who is now eighty-two, is often wistful. Of one friend, she writes, “He died, but he is still in my present tense.”
The New Yorker


'Wonderfully entertaining new memoir'
Camden New Journal


'Peggy Seeger's memoir is all that one could hope for, and more, from one of the most remarkable women on the folk scene [...] An honest and remarkable book' 
Songlines, Robin Denselow



Seeger, Peggy. First Time Ever. Faber & Faber. Oct. 2017. 416p. photos. ISBN 9780571336791. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780571336814. MEMOIR

The author, half-sister to folk singer Pete Seeger, is a force of folk all her own. In this lovely firsthand account, she shares memories of her idyllic childhood and reflections on race, as her family had African American domestic workers. She also explores cultural differences as she looks back on her travels through Europe and Asia as a young woman playing music; she delves into her identity as both a public performer and a woman, daughter, partner, mother, musician, activist, and feminist, crafting her narrative from recollections and her own diaries. Readers will find a constellation of folk music greats here, all linked by Seeger’s anecdotes. Now in her 80s, Seeger is enmeshed thoroughly in the search to know herself fully. One delightful aspect is Seeger quoting from biographies of her life, written by others. The chronological structure zigzags a bit in time, but it mimics the way memory works. VERDICT An engrossing read for all, even those who don’t know their folk music history.


Peggy's wonderful Inheritance Tracks on Radio 4 was broadcast over Christmas 2017 and is still available to listen online or download.


First Time Ever was Book of the Day on the Guardian over Christmas with a rave review from Sukhdev Sandhu.

`At a time when digital hustlers burble forth about disruption and accelerated obsolescence, it’s all the more wonderful to read Seeger write about tenderness and tenacity, value and vitality, culture and continuity, about folk music being “like a cardiograph: the form being the graph paper and the content the heartbeat”.`


'First Time Ever reveals Seeger as an elegant writer and a trailblazer, both in her musical life and in her fiercely independent spirit [...] Here is an extraordinary story, beautifully told.' 
Evening Standard


Firsts and Lasts
At age 82, American folk legend Peggy Seeger admits to Steve Lee she'll have to slow down soon, but not just yet.
Big Issue 



'Poetic, unflinching [...] her writing is a treat'
8/10 Uncut  



'Separately and together, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger were, and are, remarkable and their contribution to Britain’s musical and wider cultural life cannot be gainsaid. Throughout it all, they were true to themselves and Seeger’s memoir is a remarkable account of a remarkable life.'
4**** The Arts Desk 



'Folk legend Peggy Seeger’s memoir, First Time Ever (Faber, £20), takes its name from the song, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, written for Peggy by her late husband Ewan MacColl and that relationship – that lasted more than 30 years, until MacColl’s death in 1989 – is inevitably an important part of her story, but not all of it. Peggy writes movingly of her left-wing bohemian family and there are fascinating passages, too, on the British folk scene of the Fifties and Sixties, and the new life she has forged since Ewan’s death.' 
Choice Magazine 



BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour interview here 


'The impact of these remarkable stories is greatly enhanced by Peggy’s vividly detailed writing style, which often reads like she’s thinking aloud (so unflinchingly honest) [...] A rare treat that joins the great folk music tales with head held high.' -
Record Collector 4****  



'Rugged, occasionally riotous, memoir [...] Comes with the kind of thorough detail that defines the word "evocative" [...] Seeger writes with sharp and candid wit, devoid of sentimentality.' 
 Irish Independent  



'There are no sonorous signals of big moments, rather a series of chronological arabesques, which is why this amazing life reads more like a novel [...] [an] elegy for folk music'  
Irish Times


Peggy Seeger Notebook
A Yankee road trip in Britain, the tweets of Hocus-Potus, and why some women stop riding horses
The New Statesman


'Folk music and activism tend to come freighted with connotations of earnestness. But Seeger’s writing goes against the stereotype. First Time Ever is funny, incisive, and affecting. At 82, despite the health problems outlined at the end of the book, she continues performing. Both she and her vigorous autobiography are testament to folk’s tenacity in a modern world that is proving increasingly antithetical to its values.'
Financial Times


'The hottest gossip from the British folk revival' 
Victoria Segal in Q Magazine's Choice Cuts


'An illuminating, witty, revelatory and unflinchingly candid account, presented in vivid vignettes and nonchalant anecdotes, often funny, sometimes shocking.'
4**** Mojo


A memoir of an eventful life from a hugely influential figure in the folk revival, now 82. Seeger is an ardent feminist and left-wing activist, a singer-songwriter blacklisted under McCarthyism, the half-sister of legendary folk singer Pete and partner of controversial folk purist Ewan McColl, whose most famous song, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, is about her. The blurb promises “a story of birth and abortion, sex and infidelity, devotion and betrayal”.

The Guardian's Autumn Cultural Picks


"I loved this book - it is deeply personal and idiosyncratic and generous, and evocative of so many different eras and moments. Peggy Seeger is a master of traditional song who's life has spanned many important and fascinating eras of musical and cultural life on both sides of the Atlantic. Her memoir brings all of this to life in a distinct voice: eloquent, feisty and wise."

Sam Amidon


A Memoir

Author: Peggy Seeger

Review Issue Date: September 1, 2017

Online Publish Date: August 22, 2017

Publisher:Faber & Faber

Pages: 416

Price ( Hardcover ): $29.95

Publication Date: November 1, 2017

ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-571-33679-1

Category: Nonfiction

A British-American musician reflects on her long life and colorful career as a folk singer. Seeger (b. 1935) grew up in a musically gifted "family of left-wingers." Her father was a musicologist who regularly consorted with the likes of Alan Lomax and Lead Belly; her mother was a music teacher, composer, and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient; and her half brother, Pete, was a highly regarded folk singer and social activist. As middle class as her upbringing was, the author also remembers it as "strangely free—few dos and fewer don'ts." A lively teenager who played numerous instruments including the banjo, Seeger attended, but did not graduate from, Radcliffe College. While a student in Boston, she took part in the emerging folk music scene. In 1955, she left to live in the Netherlands. A phone call from Alan Lomax in England brought her to London in 1956, where she immersed herself in the burgeoning folk music scene of which Lomax was part. Almost immediately, she met and began an affair with English musician Ewan MacColl, who was 20 years older and married. Together, they formed an unconventional, peripatetic union that produced three children; seminal documentary collaborations with the BBC called the Radio Ballads; the Critics Group, a master class for young singers interested in learning the art of folk music; and numerous albums now considered classics of the folk genre. Their intense, sometimes-difficult personal relationship also inspired MacColl to write "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," a song made famous in the early 1970s by Roberta Flack. Spanning the U.S., Europe, Asia, and a personal evolution toward feminism and bisexuality, this free-spirited recollection of eight decades steeped in joy, sorrow, and harrowing tragedy celebrates Seeger's experiences while reveling in the free-spirited "Of-Course-Why-Not" philosophy that has governed her life. It's a remarkable life story well told. A quirky, unique, and fabulously memorable memoir.  

Kircus Review

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