This past weekend, we lost one of country and folk music's major musical personalities, Hazel Dickens, who died at age 75. The Appalachian singer-songwriter was a strong, unique artist who not only sang beautifully in the tradition of rural country and Appalachian folk music; her music also championed coal miners (her songs were featured in the 1976 documentary Harlan County USA), hard-working women ("Don't Put Her Down, You Helped Put Her There," "Mama's Hands"), and the rights of everyday people in general.
Hazel was an incredible writer and possessed a beautiful voice that was full of character. Every line, every note, took us back to the hills of West Virginia, where she was born in 1935. (You can read my Rough Guide to Country Music bio on her via Google book search.) She was a regular performer at San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and was as down to earth in person as the souls in her songs. We'll miss Hazel and her music terribly; honest music like hers is always rare, and seems even harder to find these days.