Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Indomitable Hazel Dickens

One of the most haunting moments in film in on of my favorite movies of all time is that of a folk singer standing by the grave of a slain West Virginia coal miner singing a simple and heartwrenching hymn. That scene is in John Sayles film "Matewan"; about unions and mine workers and that singer is bluegrass maven Hazel Dickens.

Thanks to the dynamic-duo-brother-filmmakers Clai and Will Lashely, I was recently honored to meet and adore Hazel close-up while the Lashley's interviewed her in her adopted hometown of Washington, DC for their upcoming documentary on Bluegrass tentatively titled "Music Across the River".

Dickens is characterized by her "high lonesome" singing and her provacative pro-union, feminist songs. Her voice is considered among the most powerful and moving of all bluegrass singers.

All in the room were struck by this National Heritage Fellow's authenticity and humor. The stories of her family's extreme poverty and of writing "Black Lung", a tribute to her coal miner brother were poignant and moving. She was delighful as she told of moving to Baltimore to work in factories and trying to fit in by finding the "ings" at the end of her words; "sing-ING instead of singin".

Look for an upcoming tribute album to Hazel which includes covers by Roseanne Cash, EmmyLou Harris, Wyononna Judd and others.

Also, keep an eye on the Lashleys and the progress of their comprehensive film. Here is the link to their website.

Thank you Will and Clai - and thank YOU Hazel Dickens.

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