RIP Hazel Dickens

I remember first hearing this song many, many years ago. It still haunts me.

[“Black Lung” lyrics transcript on the Youtube video page]

Hazel Dickens, a pioneer of bluegrass music from West Virginia, has died. She was 75. Aged 75, Dickens gave her last public performance in March at SXSW in Austin, Texas. A pioneer of the 60s folk music protest movement, and a rare exemplar of Appalachian bluegrass traditions, her songs brought many forms of injustice to wider attention. With her ’60s music partner Alice Gerrard, they researched old songs from the suffragist movement and worked them into their sets.

On Nov. 16, 2007, Dickens was among the first class of inductees into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. Michael Lipton, founder of the Hall of Fame recalled the magic of that evening as well as remembered visiting her at her home in Georgetown about two years ago when she donated her bass to the hall.

“She was a tough, strong woman who blazed a trail that many would follow,” Lipton stated in response to an e-mail seeking comment. “She put both the classic labor issues and the haunting, compelling beauty of West Virginia into words — and sang them in that timeless style that cut to your soul,” Lipton wrote.

“Hazel was as much a part of West Virginia as West Virginia was a part of her,” Lipton wrote. “You could learn volumes in her presence — and you could feel the history of the state in her voice,” Lipton wrote. “Sadly, the same issues she championed for decades — labor rights, equality for women and a respect for God’s earth — are very much in the news today.

“When she was inducted in 2007, Alison Krauss jumped at the chance to present her award, calling her an inspiration and hero,” Lipton wrote. “More recently, her songs and her spirit helped inspire Kathy Mattea to record her ‘Coal’ CD and take a stand on mining. People with strength and conviction are a rare breed and the battles they fight benefit us all.”

Categories: arts & entertainment, history, Life

Tags: , , , ,

5 replies

  1. Thanks for this tigtog, I had never heard of Hazel Dickens before this post and lost most of my morning to reading about her, her history and politics, the history of mining in West Virginia, and downloading some of her music, and trying to learn the melody for ‘Custom Made Woman Blues’. I think I’m in love.

  2. Though my Legal Ethics Report due tomorrow may turn out to be ‘Uh…don’t know, but I CAN tell you all about Hazel Dickens!’

  3. I hadn’t heard this before. Thanks. I do know the Tom Paxton song that Julie Felix sang – that give me shivers, especially the chorus:
    Oh, the rockslide may not get you,
    The fire might pass you by.
    When the gas goes up,
    It might not be your time to die;
    But every year gets harder
    To draw a simple breath
    When the black lung gets you,
    That’s the kiss of death.
    And this the price they pay for our fuel.

%d bloggers like this: