Tuesday, April 26, 2011

RIP: Hazel Dickens

Hazel Dickens, a clarion-voiced advocate for coal miners and working people and a pioneer among women in bluegrass music, died on Friday in Washington. She was 75.

Ms. Dickens’s initial impact came as a member of Hazel and Alice, a vocal and instrumental duo with Alice Gerrard, a classically trained singer with a passion for the American vernacular music on which Ms. Dickens was raised. Featuring Ms. Dickens on upright bass and Ms. Gerrard on acoustic guitar, Hazel and Alice toured widely on the folk and bluegrass circuits during the 1960s and ’70s, captivating audiences with their bold, forceful harmonies and their empathetic approach to songs of struggle and heartbreak.

Long revered by feminists, Ms. Dickens’s music, and especially her songwriting, assumed an even more political cast almost as soon as she began pursuing a solo career in the wake of the duo’s breakup in 1976. Several of her songs, including “Coal Tattoo” and the rousing organizer’s anthem “They'll Never Keep Us Down,” served as the musical voice of conscience for Barbara Kopple’s Oscar-winning 1976 documentary, “Harlan County, U.S.A.”

The full obit is here.


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