Jean Ritchie, "Mother of Folk Music"
March 2, 2008 2:57 AM   Subscribe

Jean Ritchie, Mother of folk music. Abigail and Balis Ritchie of Viper, Perry County, Kentucky had 14 children, and Jean was the youngest...

In the summer of 1946, she [more old timey from the Florida Memory Project] moved to work in the Henry Street Settlement in New York. There she met Alan Lomax,* Oscar Brand, Leadbelly, and Pete Seeger and started singing her family songs again. In 1948 she shared the stage with The Weavers, Woody Guthrie and Betty Sanders at the Spring Fever Hootenanny.

By 1952, she was traveling on a Fulbright Fellowship to trace and document the roots of her heritage in the British Isles. In 1955, her first book, Singing Family of the Cumberlands, was hailed as an American classic. Her many recordings and appearances at major folk festivals, including the early Newport Folk Festivals, cultivated a revival of interest in Appalachian music and culture. She also became known as an insightful [realplayer required] songwriter, penning such classics as Blue Diamond Mines, Black Waters, and The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore, about life in eastern Kentucky coal country.

Her itinerary page hasn't been updated in a while, but she is an active, performing musician, playing 10-15 shows per year.

*there are several other songs before Ritchie's under this link, and the player makes it so you have to listen through to get to track 4, her beautiful version of "The Cuckoo."

also of note: at least a few of the YouTube links come from her filmmaker husband George Pickow's YouTube account
posted by ethel (11 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Oops, should have mentioned that the second link (first "inside") is a direct link to an Mp3 file.
posted by ethel at 3:13 AM on March 2, 2008

14 children!
what were they thinking...
posted by billybobtoo at 3:52 AM on March 2, 2008

They were farmers. 14 children=one tractor or three mules.

But ugh, that website. Well, it sure looks folky.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:15 AM on March 2, 2008

True story, by the way . . .

I was talking to the daughter of a rather famous Appalachian singer of approximately JR's generation a couple of years ago. (The daughter, not her father.)

This was our first (of many) conversations, and she prefaced it by saying:

"You're not one of those Seegers, are you? Because I won't talk to those Seegers anymore."
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:17 AM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hey, I have an aunt in South Carolina who had 16 children. Used to spend summers with them all through my childhood. Wonderful people, each and every one of those kids.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:04 AM on March 2, 2008

My favorite song of hers is "West Virginia Mine Disaster," which is a cappella and haunting. My favorite cover of her stuff is Michelle Shocked doing "L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore." And if it wasn't illegal to do so, I'd link to my MP3s of both. Heck, I can't even find them on YouTube. I can find other versions, but not these.
posted by blixco at 9:06 AM on March 2, 2008

Thanks a lot! I know very little about the American folk tradition bar the bigger names we get to hear about abroad, so really enjoy being introduced to artists like Ms Ritchie.
posted by Abiezer at 9:35 AM on March 2, 2008

My parents weren't particularly folkies, but they had an Elektra sampler LP from circa 1960 with Jean Ritchie's "Nottamun Town" and a couple others, which captivated me as a kid. ("Nottamun Town" is the old ballad whose melody Bob Dylan borrowed for "Masters of War"; Ritchie's dulcimer-accompanied version is more haunting than, say, Fairport Convention's version.)

When I was a student at UC San Diego in the early '80s she did a performance there in a small lounge venue, and played "Nottamun Town" at my request. I wrote a little op-ed piece for the student paper lamenting the fact that while we'd had an American cultural treasure visiting the idiots at one end of the lobby didn't halt their playing of beeping and blinking video games (which, thankfully, weren't too horribly loud).
posted by Creosote at 10:01 AM on March 2, 2008

Oh wow! She's my great aunt by marriage, wonderful woman, so nice, her Husband George Pickow is also a very nice man, here's a blurry photo of the two of them visiting my house. It's not great and I'll try to find another one soon. Also I think George has stopped updating that website, but he has a Youtube account that he sent me the link to awhile ago.

Oh man, what an awesome time to join Metafilter.
posted by Del Far at 10:05 AM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

A propos of "Nottamun Town", a bit of googling turned up this long discussion of the song by Jean R.
posted by Creosote at 10:10 AM on March 2, 2008

Hey, this post scared me! I'm a huge Jean Ritchie fan.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:12 PM on March 2, 2008

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