The folk music world lost one of its great heroes this week with the death of Jean Ritchie at the age of 92. She was one of the last surviving people who learned traditional songs in the old way – from older relatives who passed them on to her when she was young.
The New York times story covers the main points of her life well.
Jean Ritchie, who brought hundreds of traditional songs from her native Appalachia to a wide audience — singing of faith and unfaithfulness, murder and revenge, love unrequited and love lost — and in the process helped ignite the folk song revival of the mid-20th century, died on Monday at her home in Berea, Ky. She was 92.
Her niece Judy Hudson confirmed the death.
The youngest of 14 children in a farming family from Viper, Ky., Ms. Ritchie was a vital link in a chain of oral tradition that stretched back centuries. Her recordings and concerts — she appeared on some of the world’s celebrated stages, including Carnegie Hall in New York and the Royal Albert Hall in London — helped keep the music alive for an international listenership.
Over the years Ms. Ritchie performed jointly with some of the best-known names in folk music, including Pete Seeger and Doc Watson. She was closely associated with the Newport Folk Festival, performing at its inception in 1959 and many times afterward.
Read the rest here.
When I first started listening to traditional folk music, it was mainly English, Scottish and Irish songs I was interested in. It wasn’t until I chanced upon a recording of Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson that I first discovered the huge American tributary of that river. Ever since then I have returned to Jean’s recordings again and again and have always found them thrilling. Many of them are available on YouTube.
Here’s a sample: Jean singing the grand old ballad ‘Barbry Allen’.
Rest in peace and rise in glory, Jean. Thank you.