Funeral services will be held today in West Virginia for Hazel Dickens: bluegrass singer, miners' advocate and authentic voice of America's working class.
Hazel, who grew up 'bare-bones' poor in the shadow of West Virginia's dangerous coal mining industry and sang of hard times in harder lives, died Friday April 22, 2011 from pneumonia at age 75. In an era of country-music escapism, she was among the first to sing about the struggles of working-class women, influencing everyone from Emmylou Harris to Allison Krauss and The Judds.
In 1987, Hazel appeared alongside a teenaged Will Oldham (later to become Bonnie Prince Billy) in Matewan, John Sayles' film about coal mining in Appalachia. Her sorrow-torn songs are featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary Harlan County USA, which depicted the tensions surrounding a coal miners' strike in rural Kentucky.
On 'Coal Miner's Grave', her voice is no more than a ghostly shimmer above the music,while on 'Black Lung', a heartbreaking lament about the respiratory disease that kills miners, she sings with the desolation of the last woman on earth.
Coal Miner's Grave