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George Pickow
and Jean Ritchie

Jean Ritchie and George Pickow

Jean Ritchie and George Pickow
Jean Ritchie and George Pickow

Jean Ritchie
Jean Ritchie

Jean Ritchie - Wife of George Pickow
Jean Ritchie

George Pickow m. 1950 to Jean R Ritchie b 8 Dec 1922 Viper, Perry Co KY d/o Balis Wilmer Ritchie and Abigail Hall. Jean Ritchie is a dulcimer player and singer. The Singing Ritchies sang at Hazard, Perry Co KY fairs and festivals.

From Wickipedia: Abigail and Balis Ritchie of Viper, Perry County, Kentucky had 14 children, and Jean was the youngest. Ten girls slept in one room of the farming family's house in the Cumberland Mountains.

Jean Ritchie quickly memorized songs and performed at local dances and the country fair in Hazard. In the late forties the family acquired a radio and discovered that what they were singing was hillbilly music, a word they had never heard before. In the mid-thirties Alan Lomax recorded in Kentucky for the Library of Congress's Archive of Folk Song. Among the people he recorded were The Singing Ritchies.

Ritchie attended Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Kentucky and later the University of Kentucky in Lexington. At college she joined the glee club and choir and learned to play piano. In 1946 she graduated with a BA in social work. During the war, she taught in elementary school.

In the summer of 1946, she moved to work in the Henry Street Settlement in New York. There she met Oscar Brand, Leadbelly, and Pete Seeger and started singing her family songs again. In 1948 she shared the stage with The Weavers, Woody Guthrie and Betty Sanders at the Spring Fever Hootenanny. Oscar Brand's Folksong Festival on WNYC radio adopted her as a regular by October 1949.

The dulcimer revival
Ritchie sang unaccompanied folk songs mostly, but occasionally accompanied herself on guitar or lap dulcimer (not a hammer dulcimer). Balis Ritchie played dulcimer but forbade his children to touch it. At the age of 4 or 5 Jean Ritchie defied the ruling to pick out Go Tell Aunt Rhody. By 1949 it was an instrument that distinguished Ritchie from all other singers. Ritchie and her husband George Pickow became convinced there was a potential boom. Pickow's uncle, Morris Pickow, set up a workshop under the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn.

George Pickow
George Pickow did the finishing and Jean did the tuning. Soon they had sold 300 dulcimers. Today most folk festivals have several people selling dulcimers. Elektra records signed her up and released three albums: Jean Ritchie Sings (1952), Songs of Her Kentucky Mountain Family (1957) and A Time for Singing (1962). She had a charming voice rather than a powerful or dramatic one, but it was authentic. Her fans would ask her "Which album has the most dulcimer?" She finally gave in, recording an album called The Most Dulcimer in 1992.

In the early 1940s George Pickow was at Camp Unity in New York. There he heard Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie jamming every night in a tiny cabin. He took up a career as a photographer, but still went to square dances. He met Ritchie and put her on the front cover of a trucker's magazine. They married in 1950. In 1953 Alan Lomax, George Pickow, and Peter Kennedy directed a film Oss Oss Wee Oss (Colour, 16 minutes) showing the May Eve and May Day Festivals at Padstow, Cornwall. George visited the UK again in 1960. In 1961 Alan Lomax and George Pickow directed Ballads, Blues, Bluegrass.

The Fulbright expedition
Jean Ritchie was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to trace the links between American ballads and the songs of the British Isles. As a song-collector, she began by setting down the 300 songs that she already knew from her mother's knee. Jean Ritchie spent 18 months tape recording and interviewing singers. Pickow accompanied her, photographing Seamus Ennis, the McPeakes, Leo Rowsome, Sarah Makem and others. One of Jean's own songs was Child Ballad 76, "Lass of Lochlroyan". She was delighted to discover that Elizabeth Cronin, an elderly Irish woman, knew a version of the same song. In 1955 Ritchie wrote a book about her family called Singing Family of the Cumberlands.

"The Mother of Folk"
Ritchie became known as "The Mother of Folk". As well as work songs and ballads, Ritchie knew hymns from the "Old Regular Baptist" church she attended in Jeff, Kentucky. These were sung as "lining out" songs, in a lingering soulful way. One of the songs they sang was "Amazing Grace". She wrote some songs, including one on the effects of strip mining in Kentucky. "My Dear Companion" appeared on the album Trio recorded by Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris. Judy Collins not only recorded some of Ritchie's traditional songs, "Tender Ladies" and "Pretty Saro", but used a photograph by George Pickow on the front of her album Golden Apples of the Sun (1962). Ritchie's 50th anniversary album was Mountain Born (1995), which features her two sons, Peter and Jonathan Pickow. In 1954 Ritchie and George Pickow released some their UK recordings under the name Field Trip. It was re-issued in 2001 on the Greenhays label. It has recordings by Elizabeth Cronin, Seamus Ennis, and others, side by side with Ritchie family versions of the same songs.

In 1996 the Ritchie Pickow Photographic Archive was acquired by the James Hardiman Library, National University of Ireland, Galway, along with tapes of Irish recordings.

Ritchie has performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Royal Albert Hall. Her album, None But One, was awarded the Rolling Stone Critics award in 1977.

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