I remember first hearing this song many, many years ago. It still haunts me.
[“Black Lung” lyrics transcript on the Youtube video page]
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.”