A Tribute to Hazel Dickens

It’s only Wednesday, and early Wednesday at that, but I’m willing to bet the best music of the week has already been played and sang at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass.

To be sure, many terrific bands will roll through the Nashville Convention Center for the rest of the conference and for Fan Fest this weekend, but the magic of Tuesday night’s all-star tribute to Hazel Dickens will be difficult, if not impossible, to top.

From the opening lines of Laurie Lewis’ interpretation of Pretty Bird to the stage-filled grand finale of West Virginia My Home, the set was filled with poignant moments honoring the trailblazing songwriter, performer and social activist.

Among my favorite moments:

  • James King and Dudley Connell, two of the most powerful voices in bluegrass, teaming up for A Few Old Memories. Apparently I’m not the only one to think it was great to see James back in action after some health issues. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
  • Claire Lynch singing Beyond the River Bend. Claire is part of the generation of female band leaders and performers who directly benefited from the trails Hazel blazed. She cut this song on a yet-to-be-released tribute album and I’ve been fortunate to hear Claire sing it several times in formal and informal settings in recent years. This time, with Hazel gone, the chorus was particularly emotional:

“But it’s only a memory,

Yes, it’s only a memory my friend,

Yes, it’s only a memory,

I can never go back home again.”

  • Kathy Mattea’s hauntingly beautiful a cappella performance of Black Lung.
  • And, of course, Mama’s Hand. The recording by Lynn Morris was IBMA’s song of the year. Last night’s version, with Alison Krauss oh-so-tenderly singing the lead, would have been the show stealer in just about any other setting. But in this lineup, it was just another stunning moment among many that a few hundred people were privileged to witness.


Hazel’s many honors were enumerated during the hour-long show, which made the one omission all the more glaring. Hazel is not in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. She ought to be. And someday she will be.

That will be IBMA’s ultimate tribute to a giant who walked among us. But Tuesday night’s concert was a wonderful start.


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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.