Jean Ritchie was an American treasure. She died on June 1 near where she was born in eastern Kentucky. The youngest of 14 children, she grew up singing traditional Appalachian songs at home. After she graduated from the University of Kentucky, she moved to NYC in the late '40s and ended up introducing the rest of the country to those songs, as well as her favorite instrument, the mountain dulcimer. She also wrote about the origins of those songs on the British Isles.
In 2002, I visited Jean at her home in Port Washington, Long Island, where she lived for 60 years. We sat together listening to some recent Americana albums, like the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack, and she talked about how they fit (or didn't) in the Appalachian traditions and the world she knew.
I feel blessed to have known this sweet and humble woman, who was such an influence on artists like Emmylou Harris, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and Kathy Mattea. In her honor I'm happy to post that entire conversation for your listening pleasure.
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Tank and The Bangas at The Performance Space at Universal Music (photo by Gus Philippas/WFUV)