Margaret MacArthur grew up hearing traditional music, first in the mountains of northern Arizona where her forester step-father was cruising timber for the Forest Service in the Tonto National Forest, later in southern Missouri where he was raising seedlings for the Mark Twain National Forest, then in Southern California where he was raising guayule rubber plants during the war.
After marrying John MacArthur, she moved to Vermont in the 1940s. She began collecting songs both in Vermont and in western Kentucky where her parents had settled. Living in the 200 year old farmhouse in Marlboro furthered her interest in old ways and old songs. After meeting Helen Hartness Flanders, she became closely connected to the Flanders Collection of Vermont and New England material. In 1962 Moe Asch of Folkways issued her first recording, Folksongs of Vermont. Since then she has recorded ten albums, some of which feature songs of Arizona, where she was an artist in residence in schools for many winters.
She toured nationally and internationally, and was featured at many festivals, including Inverness, University of Chicago, Mariposa, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Old Songs, Champlain, Eistedfod at University of Southern Massachusetts, Louisville, Fox Hollow, Southern Acoustic Music, and Pine Mountain, Cranberry, Black Swamp, and Memphis Dulcimer Festivals.
Margaret passed away on May 23, 2006.
TheVermont Arts Council, in 2002, gave her an Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.
Yankee Magazine, July & August 2001, selected her CD Vermont Ballads & Broadsides as one of The Yankee Top 40 of all time.
On Vermont Day May 1, 1997, at the invitation of Senator James Jeffords, Margaret MacArthur performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
In 1988 she received a commendation from the American Association of State and Local History, an honor from the California Traditional Music Society, and the Eistedfod Award from the University of Southern Massachusetts, North Dartmouth.
The 1985 University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Art Biennial Committee named her a “New England Living Art Treasure.”
She received the Midsummer Festival Award in Montpelier,Vermont, in 1984, and a Citation of Recognition from the Vermont Council of the Arts in 1973.