Transcripts

At Home with a Musical Icon

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:51:24
The D.C. region is home to people from all over the world, But it's also a bastion of bluegrass, a distinctively American genre that we here at WAMU happen to know a little bit about. Next week, WAMU's Bluegrass Country will host the 2nd Annual D.C. Bluegrass Festival to honor the 70-year tradition of bluegrass music in the greater D.C. area.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:51:47
Festivalgoers will see a particular country and folk legend receive the Washington Monument Award for Lifetime Achievement. Her name is Hazel Dickens and as Andrew Hiller tells us, at age 75, she's still going strong. Wowing and surprising the crowds who turn out to hear her jam.

MR. ANDREW HILLER

13:52:10
Hazel Dickens career didn't begin with the glitz and flash of Nashville. A way back in the mountains of West Virginia, she grew up one of 11 children in the household so poor, breakfast was a biscuit and often a glass of milk was a luxury.

MS. HAZEL DICKENS

13:52:24
You can start with nothing, we did, when I grew up we had nothing. We were very, very poor and there was not money to buy instruments so you used your voice.

HILLER

13:52:38
She moved to Baltimore in 1954 to make some money as a housekeeper and waitress then got a job at the Continental Can Factory. As a musician, Dickens wasn't an overnight success. For more than a decade, she piled into a car with her guitar, her band and other acts to perform at bars, festivals and tiny clubs. Today, her wall is covered with awards and many consider her a queen of traditional bluegrass music.

MR. DUDLEY CONNELL

13:53:05
She's like the Sex Pistols of old-time music.

HILLER

13:53:08
Dudley Connell has been playing with Dickens for 30 years.

CONNELL

13:53:11
I mean, it's just -- it's aggressive. It's in your face, it's take no prisoners and she's kind of relentless and I mean all of that in the most positive sense possible.

HILLER

13:53:31
Connell says when Dickens starts going, it's a revelation.

CONNELL

13:53:34
This little old lady climbs up on stage, we help her up and help her get her guitar on and tune it up and she starts to sing and you see these kids faces, they can't believe it, you know, because it's just so real. It's so heartfelt and emotional.

HILLER

13:53:56
Dickens's style is one her many fans and many artists have covered her songs. From Dolly Parton and Laurie Lewis to Grammy winner Tim O'Brien, who covered her tune "Won't You Come Sing For Me."

MR. TIM O'BRIEN

13:54:11
Hazel's got that mountain, that kind of keening sound that kind of -- it's like the Irish or the Celtic mourning kind of tone. It's -- you hear in every kind of music or every ethnic kind of music really. It's just the sound of the soul crying out.

HILLER

13:54:27
Dudley Connell says the most creative Hazel Dickens covers comes from Dickens herself.

CONNELL

13:54:33
Hazel doesn't ever do the same thing the same way twice. I've listened to her so closely and worked with her for so long that I actually kind of anticipate. I just keep eye on that ole gal.

HILLER

13:54:47
And some of Hazel Dickens favorite moments are unscripted. Like when fans take the stage to play with her after a show.

DICKENS

13:54:53
Another thing I really enjoy is jamming. You don't know what's going to come out. You don't know what the other person's going to do.

HILLER

13:55:00
And maybe that takes her back to her mountain roots.

DICKENS

13:55:03
People would gather in the living room while the women were out in the kitchen cooking and they would sing and talk scriptures.

HILLER

13:55:13
Song was a big part of family life in the Appalachian Mountains, especially for Dickens since they didn't have much else.

DICKENS

13:55:20
It saved me, singing saved me because it was something that I didn't have to pay for, you know, I didn't have to, I had no money to pay for it but I had it. It was always there and I could always turn to it, it was always a friend.

HILLER

13:55:38
Several of Hazel's songs deal with hard issues, labor, poverty, abuse. But she says she didn't write them to be political.

DICKENS

13:55:45
I would see something that bothered me. I would see or I'd see something really, a loving person or something that was overwhelmed.

HILLER

13:55:54
And it's that empathy that speaks through her music.

DICKENS

13:56:04
Because you got to get inside or if you're writing about a person, you have to really get inside that person and know the depth of their feeling, their emotions or what they're about. If not it's just words.

HILLER

13:56:20
And on April 16th there will be words and music aplenty as McLean lights up with the D.C. Bluegrass Festival. As for Hazel Dickens, who knows. After accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award, she might just grab a guitar and start jamming. I'm Andrew Hiller.

SHEIR

13:56:39
For more information on the D.C. Bluegrass Festival, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

13:57:03
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's David Schultz, Bryan Russo and Sabri Ben-Achour and from reporters Lauren Hodges, Andrew Hiller and Armando Trull. Jim Asendio is our news director. Tara Boyle is our managing producer. Julia Edwards produced ''Door to Door''.

SHEIR

13:57:20
Thanks to Tobey Schreiner, Jonathon Charry, Andrew Chadwick, Margo Kelly, Timmy Olmstead and Kelin Quigley for their production help. And special thanks to Dana Farrington and the WAMU digital media team for keeping our website up to date.

SHEIR

13:57:33
Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts'' and our ''Door To Door'' theme "No Girl" are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. Visit our website, metroconnection.org, for a list of all the music we use.

SHEIR

13:57:46
You can also find links to our Twitter feed, our Facebook page and information about subscribing to the free "Metro Connection" podcast. And we're still taking nominations for your favorite "Metro Connection" stories from the past year. We'll be airing a bunch of your faves in just a few weeks so if there's a story or interview you'd like to hear again, let us know.

SHEIR

13:58:04
Poke around the online archives at metroconnection.org and send us an e-mail by clicking the contact link. In the meantime, we hope you can join us next Friday afternoon at 1:00 and Saturday morning at 7:00 when we celebrate invention. From a local theater company that's reinventing traditional stage play to a look at revolutionary innovations born in the D.C. region.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1

13:58:26
We had people coming here who were bright and wanted to invent stuff. So the patent office from the beginning was almost like our Acropolis in a funny way. It was meant to be a place to show it off.

SHEIR

13:58:37
I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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