Jean Ritchie, Appalachian Music Pioneer

Written by Grady Mauney, Senior Honors student at Western Carolina University

The following is an abstract of a longer research paper written for Robert Ferguson’s History class. If you would like more information please email him at rhferguson@email.wcu.edu.


Jean Ritchie was a folk music singer, songwriter, and dulcimer player from the small town of Viper, Kentucky. Born into a musical family, Jean, her fourteen siblings, and parents all enjoyed hymns and Appalachian folk tunes. They would often have concerts at their home where they would invite people from their town over and perform for them. Ritchie left Kentucky for New York following college, and quickly emerged as a rising star in the post-World War II folk revival. Ritchie was a pioneer in her work with the Appalachian dulcimer. She led a long, successful career that included traveling to Ireland and recording with folk artists there, writing numerous books, and helping to establish the Newport Folk Festival. Even into her old age, Ritchie and her husband supported folk artists by joining online message boards dedicated to the folk music scene. For her lifetime achievements, she was awarded numerous awards such as the Folk Alliances Lifetime Achievement Award. Jean Ritchie passed away in 2015 at the age of 92.

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