Jean Ritchie: Jean Ritchie was the fourteenth and last child in a family in which education and music were important. She graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1946 and then headed for New York City, where she worked at the Henry St. Settlement School learning social work techniques. While in New York she met folk music collector Alan Lomax, who recognized the importance of the music that Jean Ritchie had to share and recorded her songs for the Library of Congress. She went on to meet other important musicians of the time such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.
In 1952 Jean Ritchie received a Fulbright Scholarship, and she and her husband George Pickow traveled the European countryside collecting songs related to her own family songs, songs that her ancestors brought with them to the mountains of Kentucky from their home in the hills of Scotland. Ritchie soon began to write her own songs, fueled by theevents occurring in her home state. The effects of strip mining on the land and the communities of eastern Kentucky were the subject of her early lyrics. Her songs have been recorded by well-known musicians like Kenny Rogers and Emmy Lou Harris.
Despite the fact that she has lived in Port Washington, New York for nearly 50 years, Jean Ritchie is perhaps the most well-known of traditional singers from Kentucky and has stayed true to the roots of her musical family all her life. She continues to return home to Kentucky every chance she gets.
In March 2003, Jean Ritchie became a Kentucky Woman Remembered.
In June 2002 Jean Ritchie received a National Heritage Fellowship,
the country's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.
Learn more from the National Endowment for the Arts
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