First Time Ever
"Love, unions, ecology, poll tax, abortion, Thatcher, Iraq, you name it and I made a song for it." Now singer-songwriter Peggy Seeger has written a book about it.
She was raised in Maryland by progressive parents who hosted the likes of Lead Belly and Jackson Pollock. Adept at guitar and banjo, Seeger recorded her first album in 1954, while a student at Radcliffe. Two years later, the legendary American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax summoned her to London: he wanted her for an English version of the Weavers--an obvious recruit, given that her much-older half brother was Pete Seeger. The gig fizzled, but she met "my next thirty-three years"--the English singer-songwriter Ewan MacColl, two decades her senior. MacColl was married when Seeger conceived their first child, and he fathered another with his wife shortly thereafter. While Seeger's judgment throughout her book can irk, readers will root for her, including when she starts life over with a female partner after MacColl's 1989 death.
First Time Ever offers a catbird seat overlooking a long marriage of wandering minstrels who were catalysts for the British folk revival. When MacColl first heard Roberta Flack's 1972 Grammy-winning version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which he had written years earlier for Seeger to sing, he was stunned. "Ewan said he wrote it as an hors d'oeuvre," writes Seeger, "and it had been turned into the main course." Bursting with lyrics, footnotes, photos and fine turns of phrase, First Time Ever is a feast. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author