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Great Americans Week: Hazel Dickens

The next person featured in this haphazard week-long look at great American voices is Hazel Dickens. She is a bit lesser known than Lead Belly, Doctor John or Professor Longhair, but no less important.

There are some singers and composers who come across as singing the truth as they see it: No edifice. Everything is direct, honest and to the point. That describes Dickens.

Dickens sang about “West Virginia coal-mining towns and working-class women,” according to her 2011 obit at NPR:

“She grew up poor in West Virginia’s coal country, listening to the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts and the unaccompanied singing in church. She brought those sounds with her to Baltimore, where she moved to work in a factory when she was still a teenager.

Dickens began to perform her own compositions in the 1960s. They often featured something new: a woman’s perspective in a genre more accustomed to songs from the viewpoint of husbands and coal miners.”

“Fire in the Hole” (above) was posted before at The Daily Music Break. There is a bit more about Dickens at that link. Based on the news for the past couple of years, it seems like a good time to post it again. The song was the title track in the John Sayles film “Matewan,” which is about a coal mine strike in West Virginia in 1920. I am not sure if Dickens wrote the song, though I believe that she did.

Below is “Mama’s Hand,” which includes a snippet of an interview with Dickens.

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