Friday, April 22, 2011

Hazel Dickens, coalfield songstress, dies at 75

Hazel Dickens, whose songs evoked the beginnings of country music and told the troubles of her native Appalachia and working women, died Thursday night in Washington, D.C., where she lived. She was 75 and suffered complications from pneumonia. (Photo by Jack Vartoogian, FrontRowPhotos)

"Dickens grew up in dire poverty in West Virginia’s coal country and developed a raw, keening style of singing that was filled with the pain of her hardscrabble youth," writes Matt Schudel writes for The Washington Post. "She supported herself in day jobs for many years before she was heard on the soundtrack of the 1976 Oscar-winning documentary about coal mining, Harlan County, U.S.A. Her uncompromising songs about coal mining, such as 'Black Lung' and 'They Can’t Keep Us Down,' became anthems, and she was among the first to sing of the plight of women trying to get by in the working-class world."

"It was my calling," Dickens says in a video profile of her by West Virginia Public Broadcasting, which is posted with Schudel's preliminary story. The full obituary is here. The Daily Yonder has an 8-minute clip from Mimi Pickering's documentary profile, Hazel Dickens: It's Hard to Tell the Singer from the Song, here.

Dickens' and Alice Gerrard's arrangement of “Hello Stranger” by A.P. Carter "became the blueprint for Emmylou Harris’s version of the song, and their adaption of 'The Sweetest Gift (A Mother’s Smile)' inspired Naomi Judd, then a single mother in rural Kentucky, to start singing with her daughter Wynonna," Bill Friskics-Warren writes for The New York Times. (Read more)

UPDATE, April 25: National Public Radio remembers Dickens as a folksinger and "a feminist bluegrass voice." For her interview with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air" from WHYY in Philadelphia, go here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

dear - you were a lovely and powerful voice. rest with the angels in peace.