Archive for April 29th, 2012

Most people immediately think of Roberta Flack when they think of the song The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, and for good reason.  Her 1972 version was  truly beautiful and deserved every bit of the acclaim it earned.  But the song didn’t originate with her and has had many versions through the years, including one of my favorites from Johnny Cash, which you can see below. 

The song’s history began in 1957.  Iy was written by Ewan MacColl,  a British folk singer who is a very interesting character in his own right.  He was a married man who fell in love with the much younger Peggy Seeger, the half-sister of folk icon Pete Seeger.  He later married Seeger.  MacColl wrote the song about her and for her to perform.  She needed a song for a play she was appearing in here in the USA so MacColl wrote the song and taught it to her via the telephone as he was barred from entering the States because of his Communist ties.  As I said, he was an interesting character.   Her original version is lovely with different phrasing than the better known Flack version.  I’ve also included a similarly performed and charming version from Peter, Paul and Mary.

Cash’s version is much more ponderous.  It is from his American series near the end of his life.  His voice was weaker and even rawer than in his younger days but Cash used it in an incredibly expressive way, giving the song  the feeling of a dirge as he looked back from a point near the end of his and his wife’s life, to an earlier time in his life and the fresh discovery of love.  It is both beautiful and sad. 

Just a great song.

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