Musician Hazel Dickens (June 1, 1935-April 22, 2011) was born in Mercer County, the eighth of 11 children. She was a pioneering old-time and bluegrass musician, known for preserving the traditional vocal styles of West Virginia. Dickens influenced a generation of female musicians and actively supported working people in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia.
At 16, with her older siblings, Dickens moved to Baltimore to work. They took with them their mountain music, sharing it with other transplanted Appalachians and urban folk revivalists, including Alice Gerrard, with whom Dickens recorded her first albums. Songs such as ‘‘West Virginia, My Home’’ and ‘‘Mama’s Hand’’ draw from Dickens’s life in West Virginia. Other songs, such as ‘‘Black Lung,’’ ‘‘Mannington Mines,’’ and ‘‘They’ll Never Keep Us Down,’’ underscore her commitment to coal miners and labor unions. Her many albums include Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People (1981), By the Sweat of My Brow (1984), and It’s Hard to Tell the Singer from the Song (1986).
Dickens was featured in a number of films, including Songcatcher; Matewan, about the West Virginia mine wars; and the Oscar-winning Harlan County, U.S.A., for which she wrote original music. She was herself the subject of a documentary, Hazel Dickens: It’s Hard to Tell the Singer from the Song (2001). She received an honorary doctorate of humanities in 1998 from Shepherd University. In 2001, Dickens won the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor given to folk artists in the United States. In 2002, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance. She was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007. Hazel Dickens died in Washington, D.C.
e-WV presents West Virginia Public Broadcasting on Hazel Dickens
This Article was written by Linda Tate
Last Revised on October 01, 2013
Straw, Richard. "Hazel Dickens & Mike Seeger," in J. W. Wilson & Edwin T. Arnold, eds, Interviewing Appalachia. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994.
Rosenberg, Neil, Alice Gerrard & Hazel Dickens. Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard: Pioneering Women of Bluegrass, liner notes, 1996.
Wolfe, Charles. Hazel and Alice, liner notes, 1995.
Cite This Article
Tate, Linda "Hazel Dickens." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 01 October 2013. Web. 25 April 2017.