Born in Eastern Kentucky, Jean Ritchie grew up singing the traditional music of the region and in 1946 moved to New York City. She took her music with her and became a major force in the American folk music movement, alongside Leadbelly, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie.
Ritchie is known for preserving and popularizing the traditional music of her home in Appalachia on many of her recordings and performances in which she often accompanied herself with a lap dulcimer.
Now, Ritchie, at age 86, and her husband, photographer George Pickow, have decided to leave their work, including Ritchie’s recordings and letters, to the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center in Washington, D.C.
Michael Taft is the center’s director.
“Once the tapes are here and we make reference copies, then anybody can come and listen to them,” Taft says. “And, of course, we hope sometime in the future her material would be online, and then anybody can access her recordings from anywhere in the world.”
The objects also will include photos and other works by Ritchie’s husband George Pickow.
“He has his own projects as well as documenting her Appalachian traditions, so they kind of work as a team but have their own separate areas,” Taft says. “So, they’re an interesting couple in that respect.”
Taft says the center was set up to preserve America’s cultural hertiage.
“With Jean Ritchie’s collection as well as all our other collections, it means that important information on American culture — American traditional culture —becomes more accessible or becomes accessible in the first place,” Taft says.
Ritchie has released many albums, one which won the Rolling Stone Critics award in 1977. Over her career, Ritchie has sung with Pete Seegar and Emmylou Harris and written songs about strip-mining in Kentucky.