News / Arts & Entertainment

Remembering Hazel Dickens

Hazel Dickens (file)
Hazel Dickens (file)

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Katherine Cole

Trailblazing bluegrass and folk singer-songwriter Hazel Dickens recently died at the age of 76.  Dickens was a performer whose childhood in a West Virginia coal mining town led her to become a labor activist and inspired a life-long musical career.

“It’s Hard to Tell The Singer From The Song” is the title track to Hazel Dickens' 1987 solo CD. Many of Hazel’s songs, like “They’ll Never Keep Us Down,” are anthems to working men and women, with the plight of non-unionized workers being a subject close to her heart, as was the coal mining country that she grew up in.

One of Hazel Dickens' most famous is “Black Lung,” written for a brother who died of the disease. Black lung is the common name for any lung disease developing from breathing coal dust.

Hazel Dickens grew up the eighth of 11 children in a poor mining family in West Virginia. Poverty forced her to leave the family home and move to Baltimore, Maryland, where she worked in factories alongside her sister and two brothers.

In a VOA interview several years ago, Hazel said the four attended music gatherings in their rare free time. At one, she met Mike Seeger, the younger brother of folk legend Pete Seeger, and they soon formed a band with her two brothers.

Over the next few years, Hazel became a regular part of the Baltimore and Washington music scene, playing and singing in several bands.

Remembering Hazel Dickens
Remembering Hazel Dickens

In the early 1960s, she teamed up with Alice Gerrard, and the two spent hours at the United States Library of Congress, researching early folk songs. They recorded only two albums together, but countless female musicians cite Hazel and Alice as influences and continue to perform their songs like “Won’t You Come and Sing For Me.”

Hazel Dickens’ solo career began with the soundtrack to an Academy Award-winning documentary film about a violent miner’s strike. “Harlan County USA” is a very powerful film about a 13-month strike, and it highlights the central role women played. Hazel has four songs on the soundtrack, including “They’ll Never Keep Us Down.”

Songs like that one are a reason that Hazel Dickens was called the “voice of the working class.” While many come from her own life, Hazel’s songs are ones that many people, not just those working down deep in coal mines or in factories can identify with.

Hazel Dickens lived in Washington for many years and, despite bouts of ill health, performed at the South by Southwest music conference just a month before her death.  She received many honors and accolades over her long career, including membership in the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, a lifetime achievement award from the Folk Alliance International, and on April 16 of this year Hazel was given the Washington Monument award by the D.C. Bluegrass Union.

Watch Folk Alliance International's tribute to Hazel Dickens:

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Saxophonist Craig Handy has an exciting new band called 2nd Line Smith, which combines the organ-jazz repertoire of Jimmy Smith with the “second line” rhythms of New Orleans parade music. Craig Handy joins "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten at Washington’s Bohemian Caverns jazz club to talk about the music and perform with the band.