Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bluegrassobit: Hazel Dickens

Hazel Dickens, the Hazel in Hazel And Alice, has died.

Born in West Virginia in 1935, the then-novel radio had exposed the young Hazel to a wide range of country music styles and her family had always encouraged her to sing. As the coal industry became increasingly reliant on machines, her family and their lifestyle started to slide into obsolescence, persuading Hazel to leave town. She headed for Baltimore, working as a housekeeper and brefriending Alyse Taubman. Taubman's open-house music sessions introduced Dickens to the local music scence and grew her confidence as a public performer. Alyse's brother Arnold then introduced Hazel to Mike Seeger, and everything would slide into place.

Her partnership with Alice Gerrard - Mike's wife - lasted for four albums across the 60s and 70s, a notable achievement at a time when "leading bluesgrass bands" was one of those professions considered to be man's work. It was even more impressive, given that Alice hadn't had any particular attachment to the style prior to her forming the band with Hazel; while Dickens was steeped in country, Gerrard had grown up in a classical household.

After the duo split, in 1976, Dickens went on to record solo albums for Rounder Records.

Hazel Dickens died on Friday. She was 75, and had been battling leukemia.