Hazel Dickens (1935-2011)
By now the social networks and big media outlets have spread the news that a pioneer of American roots music, Hazel Dickens, has passed away. We’d like to post some thoughts from our friend Art Menius, a well-known Folk-DJ from North Carolina and until recently, the director of Appalshop, a cutting-edge arts and education center in the heart of Appalachia. Appalshop produced an excellent documentary on Hazel: “It’s Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song.”
Thoughts on Hazel Dickens
This has been hard for me to process, even though I had been very worried about her for more than a week and was not surprised.
The greatest takeaway for me with Hazel is her courage on all matters except flying and revealing her age. The courage to leave home in the hills for the industrial harshness of Baltimore a half century ago. The courage to play bass in the hostile male world of bluegrass. The courage to partner with Alice Gerrard and record bluegrass albums with male sidemen. The courage to write bluegrass songs that raised issues a lot of people would rather not discuss. The courage to be honest and confrontational. The courage to speak truth to power in her art and to keep alive the tradition of hillbilly radical singers like Sarah Ogun Gunning and Aunt Molly Jackson while working in a genre that had little model or precedent for that save for odds and ends like Vern & Ray’s “To Hell With the People, To Hell With the Land.” Hazel combined two of my passions – hillbilly music and political art.
Through Hazel I could see my heroes that I did not have the privilege of meeting. James Still, Jesse Stuart, and Don West deserve all the praise they have received and more, but in the fullness of time, did not Hazel have far greater impact? Do people clicking on the video link below to Mimi’s film about her ask themselves, “who is Cecil Roberts?”
Charles Barkley is not a role model. Hazel Dickens was a role model and so much more.
Perhaps even more than with Utah Phillips, there is no one to fill the void.
“Hazel Dickens: It’s Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song” clip