Folk singer and song writer Jean Ritchie died yesterday, June 1st at the age of 92.
Ritchie’s songs, much like Woody Guthrie and others reflected the struggles of common folks against the injustice and cruelty of the larger corporate capitalist system. Ritchie’s songs also told the story of the middle Atlantic and coal country areas country people, such as the “L and N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” telling the story of coal country and the people left behind like so must waste when large operations like coal move on leaving the communities that supported them behind in poverty and despair. The same experience can resonate again with the damage left behind in the midwest when auto manufacturing and tool and die operations were allowed to move out of the United States, leaving workers broke and stranded and communities in decay.
She also sang many old songs from the experience of African-American people in bondage in the slavery system and Jim Crow. Her voice has a haunting, pleading sound that brings home the depth of her messages within:
Music is an integral part of the human experience, singing songs of shared experience help people cope with otherwise intolerable situations such as bondage, poverty or other oppression. Singing and music when listened to on recordings or performed becomes a group activity that bonds the participants in shared experience. Also the story-telling aspect of written songs bring together people and help express issues possibly difficult to express in other forums. Songs of warning, songs of celebration, songs of mourning, songs that are calls to action; all resonate with the lives of people everywhere.
Let us then celebrate for a moment the life of Jean Ritchie and her contribution to the American experience and also remember that although it may not be folk music, the younger generations still use music to tell their story and their struggle, such as hip-hop.