Hazel Dickens

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Hazel Dickens
Hazel Dickens.jpg
Background information
Born June 1, 1925
Mercer County, West Virginia
Died April 22, 2011(2011-04-22) (aged 85)
Washington
Genres Bluegrass, folk music
Instruments Vocals, double bass, guitar
Labels Rounder Records, Folkways
Associated acts Alice 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,[1] Mercer County, West Virginia on June 1, 1925, the eighth of eleven siblings born to a mining family.[2][3]

In the early 1950s she moved to Baltimore.[3] 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.[4]

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: 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.[3]

She appeared in the documentary Harlan County, USA and also contributed four songs to the soundtrack of the same film. 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.[5][3]

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.[6][7][8]

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.[9]

Discography[edit]

With Alice Gerrard[edit]

  • Who's That Knocking (Folkways, 1965)
  • Strange Creek Singers (Arhoolie, 1970) – Also with Mike Seeger and Tracy Schwarz
  • Won't You Come & Sing for Me (Folkways, 1973)
  • Hazel & Alice (Rounder, 1973)
  • Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard (Rounder, 1975)
  • 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

Solo albums[edit]

  • Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People (Rounder Records, 1981)
  • By the Sweat of My Brow (Rounder Records, 1984)
  • It's Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song (Rounder Records, 1986)
  • A Few Old Memories (Rounder Records, 1987) – Compilation, includes a new recording of the song "Pretty Bird"

With Carol Elizabeth Jones, Ginny Hawker[edit]

  • Heart of a Singer (Rounder Records, 1993/1998)

Other Recordings[edit]

  • Come All You Coal Miners (Rounder Records, 1973) - Recorded At the Appalachian Music Workshop At Highlander Center, October 1972, includes Hazel 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) - includes 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) - includes recordings of Hazel 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) - Includes 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) - Compiles 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) - Includes Hazel 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. ^ "Remembering Hazel Dickens". Smithsonian Folkways Magazine (Spring 2011). Retrieved June 2, 2015. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ a b c d Friskics-Warren, Bill (April 22, 2011). "Hazel Dickens, Folk Singer, Dies at 75". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin' Sound and its Legacy
  5. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 2001". www.arts.gov. National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 31 October 2017. 
  6. ^ "Final Notes, Hazel Dickens". 
  7. ^ "Grave marker (1925)". Find A Grave. 
  8. ^ "Dickens, Hazel, 1925-2011". id.loc.gov. Library of Congress. May 10, 2016. Retrieved 24 April 2018. 
  9. ^ "In Memoriam - Hazel Jane Dickens". Pickin' in Parsons. August 2011. p. 22. Retrieved May 19, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]