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Ewan MacColl
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Ewan MacColl

Ewan MacColl (1915- October 22, 1989) was a Scottish playwright, poet, actor and folk-singer.

Born Jimmy Miller, either in Auchterarder, Scotland or in Salford where he was brought up, MacColl changed his name to that of a Scottish poet whom he admired. He took a prominent role in the working-class movements of the 1930s, and, with Joan Littlewood whom he married, co-founded the Theatre Workshop and moved to London, where he embarked on a successful career as an actor and dramatist. George Bernard Shaw called him a genius.

MacColl's abiding interest was in folk music, and he collected traditional ballads. Over the years he has recorded upwards of a hundred albums, many with English folksinger A.L. Lloyd. The two together released a series of eight records of the Child Ballads, many of which appeared on his other albums.

In 1956, MacColl caused a scandal by leaving his then second wife Jean Newlove for Peggy Seeger, who was many years his junior. It was for her that he wrote the classic, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". His other best-known song is "Dirty Old Town", written about his home town of Salford in Lancashire. Together with Seeger and Charles Parker, MacColl developed the radio-ballad, for which he compsed the songs. They recorded eight that were broadcast on the BBC between 1957 and 1964.

Seeger and MacColl recorded several albums of searing political commentary songs. MacColl himself has written over 300 songs, some of which have been recorded by bands such as The Pogues, Planxty, The Dubliners, The Clancy Brothers, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Roberta Flack (who won a Grammy for "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"). In 2001, The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook was published, which includes the words and music to 200 of his songs.

There is a plaque dedicated to MacColl in Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London. It was "Presented by his communist friends 25.1.1990" and calls him " Folk Laureate - Singer - Dramatist - Marxist " and says " in recognition of strength and singleness of purpose of this fighter for Peace and Socialism".

His daughter from his second marriage, Kirsty MacColl, followed him into a musical career, albeit less traditional.