Pete Seeger may be gone, but his half-sister Peggy has some wonderful memories of him, including the concert they did together in Schenectady last May.
“I feel blessed that I had the chance to work with him last year,” said Seeger, who will be returning to the Eighth Step at Proctors tonight at 7 p.m. for a concert in the GE Theatre. “He was so gracious. He said how his memory was lousy, his hearing was lousy, and his voice wasn’t up where he wanted it to be. But he was humorous about it, and yes, gracious. That’s the word.”
The music world as well as the environmental community lost one of its biggest heroes when Seeger died on Jan. 27 at the age of 94. Peggy was on an overseas flight from New Zealand to New York to see Pete in the hospital but she didn’t make it in time, arriving four hours late. Seeger’s death prompted a flood of interview requests aimed at his sister, and while those have subsided, she has again been inundated with queries from the press since scheduling her current U.S. tour.
“I’m very glad to talk about Pete, because his death really did knock me off my perch,” she said. “I was blizzarded after he died with interviews, and now I’m blizzarded again from folks on my tour. But I do still have trouble talking about him. He held me in his arms when I was a week old. He taught me so much, and he was always sending me letters and articles.”
WHERE: Eighth Step at Proctors, GE Theatre, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7 p.m., tonight
HOW MUCH: $50-$22.50
MORE INFO: 346-6204, 434-1703, www.proctors.org
Seeger says she was blessed to come from a great family, which along with Pete included another brother and Grammy-nominated musician in Mike Seeger, who died in 2009. Mike and Peggy were children of folksinger and musicologist Charles Louis Seeger and his second wife, Ruth Porter Crawford, a prominent composer.
Peggy was 16 years younger than Pete, and while he was away much of the time when Peggy was growing up, each of his visits back home were special ones.
‘A bit hard ... to know’
“I think Pete was actually a bit hard to get to know,” said Peggy. “He kind of guarded his private person. He was sent away to boarding school when he was 6, so he had to learn to be very self sufficient. But he would sing me a new song when he came home and I always felt close to him. There were times when we didn’t really get a chance to talk that much, but when we did there was a kind of understanding. Maybe it had something to do with the music, and that we were both brought up by the same father.”
Like her activist half-brother, Peggy also ran afoul of the U.S. government. Following a visit to Communist China in 1956 she was informed that her passport would be revoked upon returning to America. Instead, she decided to tour Europe and then fell in love with British singer-songwriter Ewan MacColl, who she married in 1977.
MacColl wrote “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” in 1957 about Seeger, and the pair toured together in Great Britain performing the song. It became a folk standard until Roberta Flack turned it into an international hit on the pop charts in 1972.
Seeger, meanwhile, ended up living in Great Britain for more than 30 years, and five years after MacColl died in 1989 she was allowed back into the U.S. and began living in Asheville, N.C, and then Boston.
“I had another love affair with the States,” said Seeger, speaking by phone from her home near Oxford, England, where she returned to live around five years ago. “My kids are here, my grandkids are here. It’s where I’ve lived much of my life.”
Seeger also spends a lot of time in New Zealand where she visits another woman she refers to as “my partner.”
“We see each other six months of the year,” she said. “I wouldn’t think of living in New Zealand, it’s just too far away from everything. But we have a great relationship. As I look back on my life I’ve done some things lately that I would have thought were utterly crazy when I was 18. So I’m growing old disgracefully as some people might say, but I’m in good company. A lot of women are doing it.”
Seeger is traveling around the Northeast with a 23-year-old grandson, who is in charge of the driving.
She’s using the tour to help promote her new CD, “Everything Changes,” which won’t be released until September.
“There’s a feminist love song on it, but it isn’t a political album, at least not directly,” said Seeger. “I tend to come to things from the side, crab-wise. Musically I’m more subtle. I’m not directly pointing my finger at anyone.”
Mix of genres
Seeger said that half of the songs are folk and the others are contemporary, mostly written by her but also by members of her family. While she still fights for environmental causes and anti-war movements, the rights of women are now her No. 1 focus.
“I’m still into saving the environment and I don’t understand why we have to have all this fighting, but with me now it’s feminism,” she said. “It’s strange because there’s not that much feminism on my new album, but for the last 20 years that’s been the thing I’m fighting for.”
She tries, but she admits she doesn’t feel great about the future, unlike her older half-brother.
“Pete was an incurable optimist,” she said. “I am not. I don’t think I’m a pessimist, but I don’t have as much optimism as he had. He had a photographic memory so his head was full of knowledge. He’d come home, sing a song, and tell us all the things he had learned, and I would just sit there goggle-eyed like a 6-year-old.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or email@example.com