Saturday, April 23, 2011

RIP HAZEL DICKENS, WORKING-CLASS SINGER

Hazel Dickens
Hazel Dickens, the West Virginia-born bluegrass singer who was an authentic voice of America’s working class, has died in Washington at 75.

Ms. Dickens grew up in dire poverty in West Virginia’s coal country and developed a raw, keening style of singing that was filled with the pain of her hardscrabble youth. She supported herself in day jobs for many years before she was heard on the soundtrack of the 1976 Oscar-winning documentary about coal mining, ”Harlan County, U.S.A.”

Her uncompromising songs about coal mining, such as “Black Lung” and “They Can’t Keep Us Down,” became anthems, and she was among the first to sing of the plight of women trying to get by in the working-class world. She was a longtime Washington resident and became a key influence on such later singing stars as Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss and the Judds.

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