Jean Ritchie

Folk | 2008

The youngest of fourteen children, Jean Ritchie was born and raised in Viper, Kentucky, in the heart of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Walled in by the rugged Cumberland ridges, Ritchie’s family and their neighbors farmed their hillsides using primitive methods and entertained themselves with games and ballads handed down through the generations from their Scottish, English, and Irish ancestors. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Kentucky and, in 1947, moved to New York, working in the famous Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side as a social worker. Ritchie’s folksongs made her a fixture on the Greenwich Village coffeehouse scene, and she is credited with almost single-handedly reviving interest in the mountain dulcimer. Her songs caught the ear of conductor and record producer Mitch Miller, who arranged a contract with Elektra Records, and Ritchie’s first solo album, Jean Ritchie Singing the Traditional Songs of her Kentucky Mountain Family, was released in 1952. In 1950, she married Brooklyn-born photographer George Pickow, and for many years lived in Port Washington. Ritchie recorded more than 30 albums for different labels, including her own Greenhays Recordings label, which she and Pickow set up in 1979.

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