Sunday, May 03, 2009

The other Mrs Seeger


Pete Seeger, who is 90 today, has interesting classical music connections. It is well known that his father was the musicologist and composer Charles Seeger, and his stepmother, who Charles married in 1932, was the much underrated composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. But less is known about his mother, a classical violinist and music teacher called Constance de Clyver Edson who was divorced from Charles Seeger in 1927.

David Dunaway's biography of Pete Seeger tells us that Constance de Clyver Edson was raised in Tunisia and Paris, her grandfather ran a fashionable New York school called the Charliere Institute and her family was related to the wealthy Curtises of Philadelphia who endowed the Curtis Institute. Pete Seeger's mother must have been a talented violinist as she studied at what would be the Juilliard School, and went on to become a teacher there.

The only photo of Constance de Clyver Edson I could find is the one above, which comes via shorty.com; the original may be in the National Photo Co. Collection or Library of Congress' American Folklife Collection. The caption says it shows Charles and Constance in 1921 with two year old Pete, who must be sitting on Charles' lap, and cross-referencing with other photos confirms it is indeed Charles Seeger. The other children are presumably the Seeger's other two sons who were older than Pete. My source is online research plus David Dunaway's book, so additional information or corrections are, as ever, welcome. But is folk music 'proper' music?

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5 comments:

Pliable said...

Among David Dunaway's other books is the excellent Huxley in Hollywood which tells the story of Aldous Huxley's years in America.

A fascinating book with many references to Huxley's friends the Stravinskys, as well appearances by a dazzling range of characters including Thomas Mann, Timothy Leary, Christopher Isherwood, Charlie Chaplin and Bertrand Russell.

Now out of print, but well worth searching out -

http://www.amazon.com/Huxley-Hollywood-David-King-Dunaway/dp/0385415915

Lisa Hirsch said...

Holy moly. I've spent many years assuming that the first Mrs. Seeger had DIED, not divorced Charles.

Rodney Lister said...

There is a biography of Charles Seeger, by Anne Pescatello. The Seegers tried for a while to make a living traveling around the country and giving concerts--that didn't work out for too long. The picture was from their tour. Incidentally, I think Judith Tick's biography of Ruth Crawford is just about the best biography of a composer (period).

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks, Rodney.

Alec said...

Pete Seeger is still kicking about, and plans to appear at Clearwater this year with his grandson, Tao.

The other two boys are, indeed, his brothers. Charles III (1912-2002) became a radio-astronomer who helped construct the Westerbork telescope in the Netherlands, and John (1914-2010) was an educator who taught at the Dalton Skool in Manhatten.