Hazel Jane Dickens (June 1, 1925 – April 22, 2011) was an American bluegrass singer, songwriter, double bassist and guitarist. Her music was characterized not only by her high, lonesome singing style, but also by her provocative pro-union, feminist songs. Cultural blogger John Pietaro noted that "Dickens didn't just sing the anthems of labor, she lived them and her place on many a picket line, staring down gunfire and goon squads, embedded her into the cause." The New York Times extolled her as "a clarion-voiced advocate for coal miners and working people and a pioneer among women in bluegrass music." With Alice Gerrard, Dickens was one of the first women to record a bluegrass album.
Hazel Dickens was known for her activism on behalf of non-unionized mineworkers
Dickens was born in Montcalm,Mercer County, West Virginia on June 1, 1925, the eighth of eleven siblings born to a mining family.
In the early 1950s she moved to Baltimore. She met Mike Seeger, younger half-brother of Pete Seeger and founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers and became active in the Baltimore-Washington area bluegrass and folk music scene during the 1960s.
During this time she also established a collaborative relationship with Mike Seeger's wife, Alice Gerrard, and as "Hazel & Alice" recorded two albums for the Folkways label: Who's That Knocking (And Other Bluegrass Country Music) (1965) and Won't You Come & Sing for Me (1973). Dickens and Gerrard were bluegrass bandleaders at a time when the vast majority of bluegrass bands were led by men. Together, they recorded two additional albums on Rounder Records, but Hazel & Alice broke up in 1976 and Dickens pursued a solo career where her music and songwriting became more political.
She appeared in the documentary Harlan County, USA and also contributed four songs to the soundtrack of the same film. She also appeared in the films Matewan and Songcatcher.
Dickens received the Merit Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association in 1994 and was the first woman to do so. In 2001 she was presented with a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, which is the United States' highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.
Hazel Dickens died in 2011 from complications of pneumonia. After her passing it was reported in major media that she had been born on June 1, 1935, but her relatives and public records confirm the earlier date of June 1, 1925.
Stating that "music saves mountains," fans and supporters of Dickens' activism announced a special memorial, Tribute to West Virginia Music Legend Hazel Dickens at the Charleston, West Virginia Cultural Center on June 5, 2011.
With Alice Gerrard
- Who's That Knocking (Folkways, 1965)
- Strange Creek Singers (Arhoolie, 1970) – Also with Mike Seeger and Tracy Schwarz
- Won't You Come & Sing for Me (Folkways, 1973)
- Hazel & Alice (Rounder, 1973)
- Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard (Rounder, 1975)
- Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard – Pioneering Women of Bluegrass (Smithsonian Folkways, 1996) – Re-mastered and re-sequenced compilation of Who's That Knocking and Won't You Come & Sing For Me
- Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People (Rounder Records, 1981)
- By the Sweat of My Brow (Rounder Records, 1984)
- It's Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song (Rounder Records, 1986)
- A Few Old Memories (Rounder Records, 1987) – Compilation "best of" first three albums
With Carol Elizabeth Jones, Ginny Hawker
- Heart of a Singer (Rounder Records, 1993/1998)
- Rounder Old-Time Music (1987)
- Mountain Music Played on the Autoharp (Folkways Records, 1962)
- American Banjo: Three-Finger and Scruggs Style (Smithsonian Folkways, 1990)
- Don't Mourn—Organize!: Songs of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill (Smithsonian Folkways, 1990)
- Blue Ribbon Bluegrass (1993)
- The Old Home Place: Bluegrass and Old-Time Mountain Music (1993)
- Live Recordings 1956–1969: Off the Record Volume 1 (Smithsonian Folkways, 1993)
- Old-Time Music on the Air, V. 1 (1994)
- Hills of Home: 25 Years of Folk Music on Rounder Records (1995)
- Hand-Picked: 25 Years of Bluegrass on Rounder Records (1995)
- Songs of the Louvin Brothers (1997)
- They'll Never Keep Us Down: Women's Coal Mining Songs – Re-issued under the title: Coal Mining Women (1997)
- Blue Trail of Sorrow (2001)
- There Is No Eye: Music for Photographs (Smithsonian Folkways, 2001)
- Classic Mountain Songs from Smithsonian Folkways (Smithsonian Folkways, 2002)
- Bluegrass Mountain Style: Over 60 Minutes of Classic Bluegrass from Rounder Records (2002)
- Mama's Hand: Bluegrass and Mountain Songs about Mother (2002)
- Classic Bluegrass from Smithsonian Folkways (Smithsonian Folkways, 2002)
- Mountain Journey: Stars of Old Time Music (2005)
- Classic Bluegrass Vol. 2 from Smithsonian Folkways (Smithsonian Folkways, 2005)
- Harlan County USA: Songs of the Coal Miner's Struggle (2006)
- Classic Labor Songs from Smithsonian Folkways (Smithsonian Folkways, 2006)
- Masters of Old-time Country Autoharp (Smithsonian Folkways, 2006)
Films in which Dickens appears
Films in which Dickens contributes to the soundtrack
- ^ "Remembering Hazel Dickens". Smithsonian Folkways Magazine (Spring 2011). Retrieved 2015.
- ^ Dickens, Hazel; Malone, Bill C. (2008). "Hazel Dickens: A Brief Biography". Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens. University of Illinois Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-252-07549-8.
- ^ a b c d Friskics-Warren, Bill (April 22, 2011). "Hazel Dickens, Folk Singer, Dies at 75". The New York Times.
- ^ Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin' Sound and its Legacy
- ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 2001". www.arts.gov. National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ "Final Notes, Hazel Dickens".
- ^ "Grave marker (1925)". Find A Grave.
- ^ "Dickens, Hazel, 1925-2011". id.loc.gov. Library of Congress. May 10, 2016. Retrieved 2018.
- ^ "In Memoriam - Hazel Jane Dickens". Pickin' in Parsons. August 2011. p. 22. Retrieved 2015.