Folk Singer Jean Ritchie Dies at 92
Jean Ritchie — considered one of the most influential preservationists of traditional Appalachian music and a primary source of inspiration behind the folk-music revival of the 1960s — passed away on June 1 in her home in Berea, Kentucky. She was 92.
Born on Dec. 8, 1922, in Viper, Kentucky, into a family of 14 children, Ritchie became world famous as an Appalachian-fretted-dulcimer player, singer and scholar of the traditional Scots-Irish songs of her ancestors.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Kentucky in 1946, she moved to New York City and brought her dulcimer along with her. The instrument became a curiosity in her new urban home, and Ritchie's love of singing and performing caught the ear of taste-makers in the city's burgeoning music scene.
In the 1940s, Ritchie was recorded by famed folklorist Alan Lomax as part of his Archive of Folk Song, now enshrined in the Library of Congress.
She performed famously at the first-ever Newport Folk Festival in 1959, was a fixture in Manhattan's Greenwich Village coffeehouses and went on to release numerous albums of traditional music, gracing some of the world's most prestigious stages like Carnegie Hall in New York and the Royal Albert Hall in London along the way.
In 1996, a film about her life called Mountain Born: The Jean Ritchie Story was released, and she was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002.
Describing her style of singing as “‘Decorating’ a song with shakes and quivers in the old way, shaking up a note and quivering down," Ritchie's lifetime of musical devotion helped carry the fading oral traditions of her mountain home to a new generation of artists and fans.
Ritchie is survived by a brother and two sons, as well as a large extended family.
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