Did you ever wonder which songs will live forever? We hadn’t ever really thought about it, but then we came across this January 1953 copy of a magazine by the Charlton Publishing Corporation that answered the question that we didn’t know we had twice every month. For just $0.25 this information could have been yours.
2nd Annual Old time Fiddlers and Bluegrass Convention, 1970, Marion, VA. Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.4. Fiddle Contests and Conventions: General, 1889-1979. Folder 197: 1960s-1990s.
While looking for information about the great Kentucky fiddler Alva Greene, recorded by Kevin “Chris” Delaney (see SFC tapes call nos. FT-284 and FS-7169) as well as Guthrie Meade and Mark Wilson in the 1970s, I had the opportunity to spend a brief moment with a few of Guthrie Meade’s vast fiddle files.
“Grampaw” by Alva Greene, Recorded by Chris Delaney at Mr. Green’s home in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, Sept. 20 1973. Mr. Green was 78 years old at the time of the recording. He was born in Elliot Co., Kentucky.
“Grampaw” performed by Alva Greene, from SFC open reel tape call no. FT-284, side 1. Recorded by Chris Delaney at Mr. Green’s home in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, Sept. 20 1973. Mr. Green was 78 years old at the time of the recording. He was born in Elliot Co., Kentucky. For a fuller fiddle fix, hear more recordings of Alva Greene by Delaney at the Digital Library of Appalachia.
A seemingly inexhaustible scholar, Meade was constantly developing his discographical research, as documented by a page from this early 1970s spiral notebook (below). The notebook also chronicles some of Meade’s 1970s fieldwork exploring his lifelong interest with fiddling contests and fiddlers conventions so we pulled out a few fliers and programs from Meade’s festival files, including the “Creed of Civitan” according to the Marion Civitan Club, to share with you as well (further below). Our continuing tribute to Hazel Dickens will conclude next week. Have a great weekend.
** CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE **
Fieldnotes, Guthrie T. Meade, 1970s. Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.3. Kentucky Fiddling, 1919-1990. Folder 178: Kentucky fiddlers and tunes: General research
Program, 1st Annual Old Time Fiddlers and Bluegrass Convention, Marion, VA, 1969. Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.4. Fiddle Contests and Conventions: General, 1889-1979. Folder 197: 1960s-1990s.
“Civitan Creed,” back of program, 1st Annual Old Time Fiddlers and Bluegrass Convention, Marion, VA, 1969. Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.4. Fiddle Contests and Conventions: General, 1889-1979. Folder 197: 1960s-1990s.
Flier, WHBN’s 3rd Annual Ole Time Fiddlers Contest, Harrodsburg, KY, 1990. Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.4. Fiddle Contests and Conventions: General, 1889-1979. Folder 197, 1960s-1990s.
Registration form, WHBN’s 3rd Annual Ole Time Fiddlers Contest, Harrodsburg, KY, 1990. Guthrie T. Meade Collection, 1817-1991 (#20246). Subseries 6.4. Fiddle Contests and Conventions: General, 1889-1979. Folder 197, 1960s-1990s.
Mable Hillary and Hazel Dickens, Southern Grassroots Music Tour, 1973/1974. Photo by Cory Foster. call no. PA-20304/1.
A quick post today featuring an oral history heavy article on Hazel Dickens that originally appeared in the Washington D. C. alternative/underground newspaper, The Unicorn Times, in 1977. See complete article below and previous Hazel Dickens tributes here: part 1 and part 2.
Besides offering a comprehensive biography of her life up until the time it was published in 1977, the Unicorn Times article gives equal, or perhaps, even more space to Hazel’s own voice. Much like the book Dickens would co-write with Bill Malone thirty years later, the article gives Hazel the opportunity to critique her own life story as it had been told by others: folklorists, record companies, and the media. Among the subjects addressed are Dickens meeting and playing music with Mike Seeger in the 1950s, her feelings about her own Southern identity and mountain heritage, her status as a feminist role model, and of course her political activism. Hazel also talks about performance styles, tradition and change in country music, and the frustration that many performers feel when their creative expression is forced into categories.
“There’s so many people that get put down for doing real traditional music. For those people who still have the guts to get out there and do it, it’s a political thing. They’re to be commended for trying to preserve the music. For those people who want to go on to something else, I see nothing wrong with that. It’s part of the freedom to do what you want to do.
For myself, I like to sing that music. Whether I’m singing on or off key, whether I’m even missing some of the chords, when I’m at my best is when I’m belting it out and giving it all I’ve got. It’s something of tme that I can’t put forth if I’m restrained or trying to get everything just right. Some people when they hear country, they think of country-western, but to me it’s traditional, raw…not too pretty a sound to some people because people with a trained ear would be very put off by that sound. The voice may be gravelly, it’s not polished or too stylized. It’s not a smooth style, it’s all feeling and emotion.
When I’m at my best is when I’m singing like that. If I get too involved with what other people are thinking, with trying to sing on pitch or trying to sing the way I know some people would like to hear me sing. I lose it.” [“Hazel Dickens: The Working Class Conscience of Harlan County, U. S. A.,” Unicorn Times, August 1977, by Alice Gerrard, Len Stanley, and Richard Harrington]
Founded in 1966 by Anne Romaine and Bernice Johnson Reagon, the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project (SFCRP) worked to present traditional musicians from black and white cultures in performance together at a time when this was considered controversial. The SFCRP continued presenting musical performances throughout the South until the late 1980s and kept close ties with the activism of the civil rights era. Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard participated in numerous tours, from 1968 to the 1980s, even assisting in the organizing, production, and promotion at times.
The Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (#20004) includes numerous promotional materials as well as correspondence, both business and personal, between Anne Romaine, Hazel, and Alice. The letters and contracts provide fascinating details about the cultural industries related to traditional music in the late 1960s and early 1970s as well as information about lives of struggling folk musicians like Hazel and Alice as they carved out their early careers. In a letter dated 19 February 1968, Anne wrote to Alice:
I have narrowed the tour schedule down to two weeks instead of three. It will be from the 7th of April through the 20th. Can you and Hazel come for the second week which will be from the 14th through the 20th? The other performers for that week will be the Blue Ridge Mt. Dancers, Mike Cooney, Mable Hillary, Rev. Brown. I hope that change doesn’t mess up yalls plans too much. The tour will concentrate almost entirely in North Carolina. I could get you a weekend date here in Atlanta at the Crucible coffee house at Emory University which pays 70% of the gross for Fri. and Sat. They usually have about 70 people in there each night” [letter from Anne Romaine to Alice Foster, Feb. 19, 1968. From the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (#20004)]
Below is a promotional brochure for Hazel & Alice from the early 1970s.
for part 1, follow the link: “Hurricane” Hazel Dickens
“Is your head ready for me? I’ll bet not!! Well into each life a little rain must fall…so make way for Hurricane Hazel.” [Letter to Anne Romaine, Oct. 23, 1972. Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project, Inc. Collection 1965-1989 (#20004)]
Hazel Jane Dickens was born in Mercer Co., West Virginia on June 1, 1935. She died April 22, 2011 at the age of 75 in Washington, D. C. From her groundbreaking bluegrass performances with Alice Gerrard in the 1960s and 1970s, to her mountain tinged honky-tonk union songs, to the sobering beauty of her acapella ballads, all of Dickens’ music displayed the raw power of the lined out Primitive Baptist hymns she sang with her father, a preacher and timber cutter. Her stunningly provocative voice echoed with the high lonesome sound of the mountains. As a singer, songwriter, pioneering musician, activist, mentor, and friend, Hazel Dickens life inspired countless individuals and left an indelible mark on the musical landscape of American music.
Numerous obituaries have been written that chronicle Dickens’ political advocacy, her hard hitting contributions to film soundtracks, and her bit parts in Hollywood films. The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame has an excellent selection of videos and mp3s of her music. The documentary film Hazel Dickens: It’s hard to tell the singer from the song (Appalshop, 1987), and Dickens recent autobiography, co-written with country music scholar Bill Malone, Working Girl Blues: the life and music of Hazel Dickens (University of Illinois Press, 2008), provide remarkable insight into the creative life of an artist as Hazel reflects on her own career. We highly recommend you spend some time with these if you haven’t previously had the opportunity.
With so much rich information available, we struggled to think what we could add to the conversation. This post is much delayed resulting from the question of how to honor a figure we hold in such high regard and whose life and work are so intertwined with the “stuff” the Southern Folklife Collection claims as its mission to collect, preserve, and disseminate. At the “Sounds of the South” conference held at UNC in April 1989 when the Southern Folklife Collection officially opened to the public in 1989, folk music scholar Norm Cohen challenged the fledgling archive to be “creative” in it’s “accessibility.” Just as Australian record enthusiast John Edwards demanded in his will that his collection be kept whole, yet made available for the “study, recognition, appreciation, and preservation” of the American vernacular music he so loved, Cohen called for the SFC to become an “extension of living traditions, not just the graveyard of dead ones.” (Sounds of the South, pp. 113-126).
Spending time with the artifacts of Hazel Dickens’ life in the SFC offered a reminder of this lesson. The classic recordings of Hazel and Alice, Dickens’ masterful performances, and the songs like “Coal Tatoo” and “They’ll Never Keep Us Down” will always come to mind first when someone mentions her name, however, it’s things like the handwritten notes, the candid photographs, and the hand painted holiday card below, essentially the banalities of everyday life, that make those iconic recordings stand out even more in context. Hazel Dickens knew this better than anyone, she sang it, “It’s hard to tell the singer from the song.”
Over the next two weeks, Field Trip South will pay tribute to Hazel Dickens by sharing a variety of materials from her life and career that appear across numerous collections at the SFC. We hope these glimpses–highlighting her struggles starting a music career while working a day job, her wicked sense of humor, and her truly remarkable music–contribute to the continued appreciation of the living legacy she leaves behind.