Image - University of Kentucky
From The Kentucky Encyclopedia -
Jean Ruth Ritchie, folk-singer, the youngest of Balis W. and Abigail (Hall) Ritchie's fourteen children, was born December 8, 1922, in Viper, Perry County, Kentucky. The Ritchies had a reputation as a singing family interested in collecting and preserving mountain ballads and play-party songs. The family was visited by various folk music collectors, including Cecil Sharp in 1917. All of the Ritchie children -- May, Ollie, Mallie, Una, Raymond, Kitty, Truman, Patty, Edna, Jewel, Opal, Pauline, Balis Wilmer, and Jean -- were musical, and both Edna and Jean became professional musicians. By the age of five, Jean had learned to play the mountain dulcimer from her father.
Ritchie children, residing halfway between Pine Mountain Settlement School and Hindman Settlement School , attended both. All of them graduated from high school and nine attended college. Jean Ritchie graduated from Perry County High School in 1940 and attended Cumberland College in Williamsburg for two years. She taught school in Perry County for a year in 1943, then transferred to the University of Kentucky , graduating in 1946 a member of Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in social work. Ritchie returned to Perry County as supervisor of elementary education for a year. She moved to New York City in 1947 to work at the Henry Street Settlement House. While there, she became known for singing ballads and playing the mountain dulcimer. Alan Lomax, a folk song collector, recorded Ritchie in 1949 for the Library of Congress Folk Song Archives and she became a regular performer on his radio program in New York City.
Ritchie began her recording career in 1952 when she signed a contract with Elektra Records. She has recorded more than thirty-five albums with various recording companies. Emphasizing traditional ballads in their original form, Ritchie is considered a major contributor to the folk music boom of the 1950s and 1960s. She popularized the mountain dulcimer, which she played mainly as an accompaniment to her vocals. Besides singing ballads such as " Go Tell Aunt Rhodie," " Shady Grove," and " Pretty Betty Martin," Ritchie wrote songs, including " Sorrow In The Wind." In 1977 her album None But One won the Rolling Stone critics award.
In 1952 Ritchie wrote The Swapping Song Book, a collection of twenty-one ballads for children, with photographs by George Pickow. Ritchie has since written and edited ten books of music and a family biography, Singing Family Of The Cumberland (1955).
Ritchie has performed internationally, as well as touring the United States in concerts and music festivals, often alternating mountain ballads with European or contemporary folk songs to show similarities and differences. She has appeared on radio and television and in motion pictures. In 1963 Ritchie was one of the seven original board members of the Newport Folk Festival.
Ritchie received a Fulbright fellowship to study songs of Ireland and England from September 1952 to October 1953. In 1980 she was scholar in residence at California State College, at Fresno. She was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Kentucky in 1982.
Ritchie married George Pickow on September 29, 1950. They have two sons, Peter and Jonathan. Ritchie maintains residences at Port Washington, New York, and Viper, Kentucky.
Selected Sources from UK Libraries:
Ritchie, Jean. Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians as Sung by Jean Ritchie. 2nd ed. Lexington: U of Kentucky, 1997. Print.
M1629 .F686 1997, Fine Arts Library
Ritchie, Jean. Singing Family of the Cumberlands. Lexington, Ky.: U of Kentucky, 1988. Print.
ML420.R6 A3 1988, Fine Arts Library
Ritchie, Jean. The Dulcimer Book; Being a Book about the Three-stringed Appalachian Dulcimer, including Some Ways of Tuning and Playing; Some Recollections in Its Local History in Perry and Knott Counties, Kentucky; Some Observations on the Probable Origins of the Instrument in the Old Countries of Europe; with Plentiful Photographic Illustrations and Drawings; and with Words and Music for Some Sixteen Songs from the Ritchie Family of Kentucky. New York: Oak Publications, 1963. Print.
ML1015 .D8 R58, Fine Arts Library