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Grammy In Memoriam Includes Bluegrass Legend Hazel Dickens [VIDEO]

Although the very great loss of pop star Whitney Houston loomed over Sunday night’s Grammy awards, another name caught my eye in the “In Memoriam” section of the show. I saw the name “Hazel Dickens” and I started to wonder where in the world had I heard that name before? I just happened to have my laptop open so I looked up the name, and when I started to see images of her, it hit me! I had briefly seen Hazel Dickens perform at the River of Music Party (ROMP) in 2007. When I say “briefly”, let me explain.

A friend of mine asked me to go and I had never been to ROMP before, or since. As you know, ROMP always falls on one of the last weekends of July, so, it was typical July weather, hot and very humid. My friend would be performing with the other Bluegrass museum students, she played a mean mandolin. I bought my first bag chair that day and we guzzled many sports drinks to stay hydrated. As late afternoon was setting in, all the humidity started to evolve into a rather significant thunderstorm situation. At first, there was a torrential downpour that luckily cooled things off, but it would create a dilemma for me and my friends, “do we stay or do we go?” We decided to stick around since the rain had moved on. I then noticed this little red-headed older lady step on stage, guitar in hand and she was ready to go. However, Mother Nature had different plans. Hazel Dickens played maybe a couple of minutes and then the big storm showed up. My friend and I dashed like banshees to her car, she then took me to my car and we sadly left Dickens and ROMP behind. What I really hate is I had pictures of this day, but I forgot my hard drive crashed a little over a year ago, alas I lost what I had stored from my camera.

When I was looking up more about Hazel Dickens, I was very happy and surprised to learn she was one of the voices of the coal miners, writing and singing in activism and in solidarity. I was even more happy to learn Dickens’ coal-miner songs can be heard in the brilliant Oscar-winning documentary Harlan County U.S.A. I’ve seen it many times but I never made the connection. And Dickens herself appeared in a couple of movies including John Sayles’ coal-miners strike drama Matewan and another movie I love which includes a lot of string band music, Songcatcher.

Here is Hazel Dickens in her prime, with “Black Lung”:

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