Friendship and a glowing description of Prescott persuaded folk legend Peggy Seeger to put an Elks Opera House performance on the route of her final American tour.
She will perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the historic stage during her farewell to America before she returns to England to be near her children and grandchildren.
Prescott resident Layne Longfellow is the person responsible for convincing Seeger to visit Prescott. Now in his "third Prescott residency" and an OLLI course facilitator, he came to know Seeger through a mutual friend and said "this stop on her final U.S. tour was inspired by my rapturous description of Prescott" when they lunched one day before he returned from Cambridge, Mass., to live here once again.
"She is brilliant ... She also has the temperament of a poet and a songstress. She is outspoken and courageous. She is lovely and genteel, yet vigorous in her stances."
Seeger expressed the same admiration for Longfellow after listening "for the fourth or fifth time" to his CD, "Longfellow Reads Longfellow," an idea he conceived when he discovered "the association of music and reading." That he would record such a CD seemed natural, because the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's first cousin Michael was Layne Longfellow's great-great grandfather. "I translate this as first cousins four generations removed," Layne Longfellow said.
Of "Longfellow Reads Longfellow," Steeger told Longfellow that "It's stunning ... It seems a cooperative venture between you and him, a bridge across time."
Seeger was born in 1935 in New York City. Her mother was a composer and piano teacher, and her father was an ethnomusicologist and music administrator. As is so often true with many musicians, her formal music education was interwoven with the family's interest in folk music. By the time she was 7, she began playing piano, and by the age of 11, she was transcribing music and becoming conversant with counterpoint and harmony. From that point until she was 35, she learned to play guitar, five-string banjo, autoharp, Appalachian dulcimer and English concertina.
"I tried the fiddle - and failed," she says.
That stumble hardly put a crimp in her career. She attended Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass., where she majored in music and began singing folksongs professionally. In 1959, she became a British subject, and during this phase of her career she met and married English songwriter Ewan MacColl. He wrote the song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" for their wedding.
She was the first to sing this classic and will perform that version when she appears at the Elks, along with traditional North American songs and some contemporary songs, she said.
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is "a composition of compelling beauty and softness, yet inspired by a vigorous, outspoken, courageous, creative singer-songwriter," Longfellow said.
But there's more to Seeger's repertoire than this.
"I am especially drawn to her songs of social justice in support of working people," Longfellow said.
The Prescott audience is bound to hear this side of Seeger and her causes, as well.
"I take up the feminist, the ecological and things that have to do with the economy side by side with traditional songs," she said.
"I believe the world needs female input. The world is too male. It's territorial, too aggressive and doesn't show the best aspect of males."
Though not intending to demean the opposite sex, Seeger said, "Women tend to be more caring and more 360 degrees in our viewpoints and not as aggressive. If we are, it's on a smaller scale."
Seeger said she plans to bring along a collection of her CDs, "which are quite unusual." They offer a variety of love concerts, love poems and songs, she said.
Seeger's latest project is "The Home Trilogy," three albums, with discs containing one or two songs of her own composition and the rest traditional U.S.A pieces.
The concert, presented by Granite Peaks Art, benefits the Prescott Area Women's Shelter and the Coalition for Compassion and Justice. Tickets range from $13 to $25 and are available at elksoperahouse.com.
Seeger will also present a free workshop, "A Feminist View of Anglo-American Traditional Songs," from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Crossroads Community Room at Prescott College. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org with "Register for Peggy Seeger Workshop" in the subject line; in the body include the name (or names) of the people who will attend and a phone number.