The Appalachian Winter Homecoming brought together students from Hazard Community and Technical College, Alice Lloyd College, Hazard High School, and June Buchanan, along with local musicians and instructors at the HCTC Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music. The group honored legendary folk singer and songwriter Jean Ritchie, a native of the Viper community here in Perry County.
Ritchie grew up playing music with her family as they worked, but didn't plan on making it her career. She graduated college with a degree in social work and moved to New York where she began her career. After getting married, she left social work and instead began focusing on her music.
Ritchie wrote many of her classic songs under a pseudonym, Than Hall, since she wrote many songs dealing with coal mining and she felt they would be taken more seriously if a man wrote them. One of her most famous songs, “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” is about the coal industry. It has been covered by dozens of musicians including Johnny Cash.
Ritchie was featured on TV shows, won numerous awards, and recorded dozens of albums during her career spanning from 1952 to 2002.
During the performance held at the Hal Rogers Forum on Nov. 28, students and musicians preformed several of her songs and sang many of her favorite Christmas hymns. Several soloists performed renditions of hymns while quotes she said about the songs were said aloud.
The entire group came together to perform some holiday classics like “Go Tell It On The Mountain.”
The performance was recorded so that it can be sent to Ritchie, who currently lives in a nursing home in Berea, Kentucky. She will be turning 90 years old on Dec. 22, and had remained active in music until she had a stroke in 2009.
Ritchie had hoped to make the concert, but was unable to due to illness.