When I was young I was “lucky” enough to grow up in an area that was so rural that it celebrated not only a ridiculous amount of country music, but also bluegrass music. My one and only pet rabbit was acquired from a breeder who was selling them out of his camper at a local bluegrass festival. My father played the banjo for a while (and even took lessons), my sister played a fair mandolin, I failed miserably at learning the fiddle and my mom owned a guitar. Our family bluegrass band did not succeed and you can imagine that I immediately rebelled into alternative rock and hip hop as soon as was humanly possible.

My love of the music just lay dormant though, and in my college years I rediscovered it through artists like Bela Fleck who tried to put a new spin on bluegrass. Here they bring in Indian drumming and electric banjo to play Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown.”

Bluegrass itself comes in different flavors, and one of the most simple comes from the Appalachian mountain regions, specifically West Virginia or Pennsylvania. You could define it further as mining towns, but I hesitate to do so because that might be too specific. What I can say about it is that, like many things in the early 20th century, it was dominated by men so when women began to shine in the field people took notice.

One of the premier women in the field of bluegrass was Hazel Dickens, who died last Friday at the age of 75. One of the women who made their mark on Appalachian mountain music, Hazel was one of the first inductees into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007. Her voice brought a different flavor to bluegrass music, and she performed almost right up until her death. Here is a clip of her singing.

Remember that America has produced musical styles outside of jazz, hip hop, and country which have lasted through the ages. These musical styles are just as important to our history as Americans, even though we don’t hear them as much on the radio or honor them openly at awards ceremonies. They speak to deep, regional traditions that are key to the identity of that regions’ inhabitants and we should know and honor them.

Advertisements