Jean Ritchie, 1922 – 2015

We were saddened to learn this morning of Jean Ritchie’s passing. She was a true crusader for Appalachian folk music, culture, and history. As we remember her today, we thought we’d turn to Jean’s own words in Singing Family of the Cumberlands where she recalls where it all began.

I was born in Viper, Kentucky, in the Cumberland Mountains, on the eighth day of December 1922. I think I was a little of a surprise to my mother who had thought that if a woman had a baby in her fortieth year it would be her last. Mom had my brother Wilmer when she was forty, and she settled back to raise her thirteen young uns without any more interference. Then when she was forty-four, I came along.

It must have been hardest on Wilmer; he had himself all fixed to be the baby of the family for life. Mom says that the day I was born they found him, in the middle of all the excitement, away out behind the house all alone. He was leaning up against the old June-apple tree just crying his eyes out. He wouldn’t tell what was the matter for a long time, but finally he snubbed and said that he never would get to sleep with Mommie no more.

My sisters laughed and made a great joke out of it, and shamed him and said that was a fine way to act when there was a pretty little sister in the house. But Mom told them to hush about it, and she told Wilmer to climb into the bed too. So that first night she slept with her girl babe and her boy babe and my Dad, all three.

Well, that was my introduction to this world, so they tell me, the way families will remember little funny things about a birth or a marrying or even a funeral, and tell about them a thousand times over the years on all those occasions when families start to recall old times. Whenever the Ritchie family falls into one of these sessions of telling tales on one another, it is sure to take up a long evening, because we have so much to remember and so many to remember about.

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The University Press of Kentucky has a dual mission—the publication of books of high scholarly merit in a variety of fields for a largely academic audience and the publication of books about the history and culture of Kentucky, the Ohio Valley region, the Upper South, and Appalachia. The Press is the statewide mandated nonprofit scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, operated as an agency of the University of Kentucky and serving all state institutions of higher learning, plus five private colleges and Kentucky's two major historical societies.

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