Hazel Dickens

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Hazel Dickens
Hazel Dickens.jpg
Background information
BornJune 1, 1925
Mercer County, West Virginia
DiedApril 22, 2011(2011-04-22) (aged 85)
Washington
GenresBluegrass, folk music
InstrumentsVocals, double bass, guitar
LabelsRounder Records, Folkways
Associated actsAlice Gerrard, Mike Seeger

Hazel Jane Dickens (June 1, 1925 – April 22, 2011) was an American bluegrass singer, songwriter, double bassist and guitarist. Her music was characterized not only by her high, lonesome singing style, but also by her provocative pro-union, feminist songs. Cultural blogger John Pietaro noted that "Dickens didn’t just sing the anthems of labor, she lived them and her place on many a picket line, staring down gunfire and goon squads, embedded her into the cause." The New York Times extolled her as "a clarion-voiced advocate for coal miners and working people and a pioneer among women in bluegrass music." With Alice Gerrard, Dickens was one of the first women to record a bluegrass album.

Hazel Dickens was known for her activism on behalf of non-unionized mineworkers

Career[edit]

Dickens was born in Montcalm, Mercer County, West Virginia on June 1, 1925, the eighth of eleven siblings born to a mining family. She had 1 sister and 9 brothers, all of whom were miners.[1][2]

In the early 1950s she moved to Baltimore.[2] She met Mike Seeger, younger half-brother of Pete Seeger and founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers and became active in the Baltimore-Washington area bluegrass and folk music scene during the 1960s.

During this time she also established a collaborative relationship with Mike Seeger's wife, Alice Gerrard, and as "Hazel & Alice" recorded two albums for the Folkways label[3]: Who's That Knocking (And Other Bluegrass Country Music) (1965) and Won't You Come & Sing for Me (1973). Dickens and Gerrard were bluegrass bandleaders at a time when the vast majority of bluegrass bands were led by men. Together, they recorded two additional albums on Rounder Records, but Hazel & Alice broke up in 1976 and Dickens pursued a solo career where her music and songwriting became more political.[2]

Dickens used her music to try and make a difference in the lives of non-unionized mine workers and feminists.[4] Dickens started to write more about the lives of miners and wrote a song titled "Black Lung" about the death of her brother, Thurman, who died from the disease.[5] She wrote a song titled "Coal Mining Women" about the hardships women faced in the coal mining world.[5] In 1978, Dickens performed at the Vandalia Gathering in Charleston, West Virginia, both solo and then with the former coal-miner turned musician, Carl Rutherford.[6] Dickens began to be seen as an activist and a voice for the working people.[7]

She appeared in the Oscar winning documentary Harlan County, USA, about the struggle of the county's miners union against scab workers, wage rights, and health conditions; sung about on the picket line in her folk songs as well as contributing those four songs to the soundtrack of the film.[8] [9]She also appeared in the films Matewan and Songcatcher.

Dickens received the Merit Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association in 1994 and was the first woman to do so. In 2001 she was presented with a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, which is the United States' highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.[10][2]

Death[edit]

Hazel Dickens died in 2011 from complications of pneumonia. After her passing it was reported in major media that she had been born on June 1, 1935, but her relatives and public records confirm the earlier date of June 1, 1925.[11][12]

Stating that "music saves mountains," fans and supporters of Dickens' activism announced a special memorial, Tribute to West Virginia Music Legend Hazel Dickens at the Charleston, West Virginia Cultural Center on June 5, 2011.[13]

Discography[edit]

Singles and EPs[edit]

  • "They'll Never Keep Us Down" (Rounder Records, 1976) – for the film Harlan County, U.S.A.
  • "Busted" / "Old Calloused Hands" (Rounder Records, 1980) – from the album Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People

Solo albums[edit]

  • Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People (Rounder Records, 1980)
  • By the Sweat of My Brow (Rounder Records, 1983)
  • It's Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song (Rounder Records, 1987)
  • A Few Old Memories (Rounder Records, 1987) – Compilation, includes a new recording of the song "Pretty Bird"

With Alice Gerrard[edit]

  • Who's That Knocking (Folkways, 1965)
  • Strange Creek Singers (Arhoolie Records, 1970) – as "Strange Creek Singers", with Mike Seeger, Tracy Schwarz, Lamar Grier[14]
  • Won't You Come & Sing for Me (Folkways, 1973)
  • Hazel & Alice (Rounder, 1973)
  • Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard (Rounder, 1976)
  • Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard – Pioneering Women of Bluegrass (Smithsonian Folkways, 1996) – Re-mastered and re-sequenced compilation of Who's That Knocking and Won't You Come & Sing For Me

With Carol Elizabeth Jones, Ginny Hawker[edit]

  • Heart of a Singer (Rounder Records, 1998)

Other recordings[edit]

  • Come All You Coal Miners (Rounder Records, 1973) - Recorded At the Appalachian Music Workshop At Highlander Center, October 1972, included Dickens singing "Black Lung", "Cold Blooded Murder", "Clay County Miner", "Mannington Mine Disaster"
  • They'll Never Keep Us Down: Women's Coal Mining Songs (Rounder Records, 1984) - included new studio recordings "Coal Mining Woman", "Coal Miner's Grave", "Coal Tattoo", and "They'll Never Keep Us Down", recorded for the 1982 film Coalmining Women.
  • Matewan: Original Soundtrack (Daring Records, 1987) - included recordings of Dickens singing a-Capella in the film, "Gathering Storm", "What A Friend We Have In Jesus", "Hills Of Galilee", and a studio recording, "Fire In The Hole"
  • Don't Mourn—Organize!: Songs of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill (Smithsonian Folkways, 1990) - included the Joe Hill song about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, "Rebel Girl"
  • Live Recordings 1956–1969: Off the Record Volume 1 (Smithsonian Folkways, 1993) - a live Bill Monroe compilation
  • Coal Mining Women (Rounder Records, 1997) - included an a cappella performance of "Clara Sullivan's Letter", and compiled songs from 1973 Come All You Coal Miners and 1984 They'll Never Keep Us Down releases
  • Songcatcher: Music From And Inspired By The Motion Picture (Vanguard Records, 2001) - included Dickens performing "A Conversation With Death"

Films[edit]

Films in which Dickens appears[edit]

Films in which Dickens contributes to the soundtrack[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dickens, Hazel; Malone, Bill C. (2008). "Hazel Dickens: A Brief Biography". Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens. University of Illinois Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-252-07549-8.
  2. ^ a b c d Friskics-Warren, Bill (April 22, 2011). "Hazel Dickens, Folk Singer, Dies at 75". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Remembering Hazel Dickens". Smithsonian Folkways Magazine (Spring 2011). Retrieved June 2, 2015.
  4. ^ "Remembering Hazel Dickens: A Feminist Bluegrass Voice". NPR.org. Retrieved 2019-06-09.
  5. ^ a b Lee, Hiram (May 9, 2011). "Folksinger Hazel Dickens dies at 75". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  6. ^ Lilly, John (March 5, 1999). "Mountains of Music: West Virginia Traditional Music from Goldenseal". University of Illinois Press. pp. 165–170. Retrieved March 5, 2019 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Hudson, Michael (November 26, 2002). "Hazel Dickens Inspires New Generation of Musicians". Women's e-News. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  8. ^ "Harlan County, USA | Big Sky Documentary Film Festival". www.bigskyfilmfest.org. Retrieved 2019-06-09.
  9. ^ "Harlan County USA". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2019-06-09.
  10. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 2001". Arts.gov. National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  11. ^ "Final Notes, Hazel Dickens". Oldtimeherald.org.
  12. ^ "Dickens, Hazel, 1925-2011". Id.loc.gov. Library of Congress. May 10, 2016. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  13. ^ "In Memoriam - Hazel Jane Dickens". Joomag.com. August 2011. p. 22. Retrieved May 19, 2015.
  14. ^ "Strange Creek Singers: Get Aquatinted Waltz - Strange Creek Singers - Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  15. ^ "Appalshop". Retrieved 20 April 2019.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]