Peggy Seeger

A Life of Music, Love, and Politics
Author: Jean R. Freedman
A full-length biography of the folk music legend
Cloth – $29.95
Paper – $19.95
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 02/24/2020
Cloth: 03/06/2017
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About the Book

Born into folk music's first family, Peggy Seeger has blazed her own trail artistically and personally. Jean R. Freedman draws on a wealth of research and conversations with Seeger to tell the life story of one of music's most charismatic performers and tireless advocates.

Here is the story of Seeger's multifaceted career, from her youth to her pivotal role in the American and British folk revivals, from her instrumental virtuosity to her tireless work on behalf of environmental and feminist causes, from wry reflections on the U.K. folk scene to decades as a songwriter. Freedman also delves into Seeger's fruitful partnership with Ewan MacColl and a multitude of contributions which include creating the renowned Festivals of Fools, founding Blackthorne Records, masterminding the legendary Radio Ballads documentaries, and mentoring performers in the often-fraught atmosphere of The Critics Group.

Bracingly candid and as passionate as its subject, Peggy Seeger is the first book-length biography of a life set to music.

* Publication of this book is supported by grants from the Manfred Bukofzer Endowment of the American Musicological Society, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and from the L. J. and Mary C. Skaggs Folklore Fund.

About the Author

Jean R. Freedman earned a Ph.D. in folklore from Indiana University. She is the author of Whistling in the Dark: Memory and Culture in Wartime London.


"An elaborately detailed investigation of Seeger's enduring musical legacy."--Booklist

"Freedman illuminates Seeger's life and career, creating a powerful, in-depth portrait of the woman, artist, activist, and champion of the folk music genre. . . . A must."--Library Journal

"Jean R. Freedman's thoroughly researched book is the definitive biography--a masterpiece."--FolkWorks

"This biography is at its best in evoking what it must have felt like to be Peggy Seeger, developing a political, feminist, consciousness while realizing her own loving and artistic self within a formidable family and political community. Recommended."--Choice

"Her account will be welcomed by Seeger's perennial fan base while providing a fair, thoughtful introduction to new admirers."--Bookreporter

"Freedman succeeds through prose as approachable and entertaining as Seeger's lyrics and informal, intimate performance style. . . . Freedman skillfully connects and contrasts Seeger's development as an artist with the practices of her parents and siblings, and also with a wide array of political and cultural movements."--Journal of Folklore Research

"A welcome biography of an important musician and songwriter."--Folk Music Journal


"Peggy Seeger has lived her life at the sharp end of folk music. Jean Freedman tells the story of this free-spirited artist and agitator."--Billy Bragg

"Freedman, a professional folklorist, is the perfect biographer for the incomparable Peggy Seeger. She skillfully weaves together insights from the many interviews she conducted with family, friends, and Peggy herself, with her own expert observations about the musical gifts and accomplishments of the folk music icon. Those of us for whom Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl were living legends will especially savor this book, but everyone will be fascinated and moved by the life of a uniquely talented musician who bridged so many divides: classical and folk music, the British and American folk scenes, and her roots in one of America’s great musical families to the several lives she created in the UK and the US."--Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don't Understand and You're Wearing THAT?

"O, how I love this book! It gives me everything I wanted to know about my friend, the salty and sweet Peggy Seeger and her unique and prolific family. All the pain is there, but so are the achievements and the joys. This book goes on my shelf next to The Mayor of MacDougal Street, and I can offer no higher praise than that."--Tom Paxton

"The greatest challenge for a biographer is to go beyond a chronology of dates and events, however detailed, and to capture fully the subject’s warmth, wit, courage, character, soul, spirit. In the best biographies, those readers who know the subject will feel that she’s actually in the room with them, absolutely present and political, laughing and singing—and those who have not yet met her in person will hope fervently the day comes soon when they meet her face to face, voice to voice. Jean R. Freedman has wrought a true miracle, making Peggy almost as alive on the page as she is on the stage, with all of her wonderful complexity, passion, and depth. Don’t just read this book—listen to it, with open ears and heart."--Si Kahn, civil rights, union, and community organizer and musician

"Jean Freedman's biography stands front and center in the tradition of the Seeger family's long history of active engagement in music and musical life. Peggy Seeger's father Charles wrote about 'tradition and innovation' in modern music. Her mother, the composer Ruth Crawford, made her project to 'strike a just balance' in her folk song arrangements to reach across lines of race and class. And their daughter’s transformation and reinvention of the family legacy to fuel her own prodigious gifts represent yet another stage of evolution in this remarkable family. Spanning crucial decades of change in the Anglo-American folk music revivals and renewals of creativity, Peggy Seeger's passionate involvement in music, family, and politics has been well served in Jean Freedman's excellent survey of the artist, the activist, and the woman."--Judith Tick, author of Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer's Search for American Music