While most of the bluegrass world is focusing on the approaching 100th anniversary of Bill Monroe’s birth, another pioneer of the genre, Hazel Dickens, is quietly preparing to release a new recording for the first time in years. Recording is finished, music sources close to Dickens tell me. But a release date hasn’t been set by Rounder Records, and label boss Ken Irwin is reluctant to discuss the project, calling it “premature.”
One one level, it seems you’d want to shout from the rooftops if your label was working on a new Hazel Dickens project, since her last solo project, It’s Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song, came out 26 years ago. But Irwin has a good reason not to get too far out in front on this one, given the uncertainties of the recording industry and the fact that a Dickens’ tribute disc, organized by Todd Phillips, has been in the works since at least 2007. Irwin told me Thursday night in Nashville that discussions of that project were also premature.
Claire Lynch, who cites Dickens as a major influence, recorded a cut for the tribute project. Others reported to be taking part include Roseanne Cash, rocker Elvis Costello and jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux. Lynch had been scheduled to share the stage with Dickens at a show in Westminster, Md., in July, but Dickens had to cancel that appearance and a related visit to a week-long class about her music at Common Ground on the Hill because of illness.
While Dickens, 75, is frail, she appeared in fine form at Thursday night’s IBMA awards show, where she joined Peter Rowan to present two awards. And from Nashville, she was heading to San Francisco to play a festival. At the pre-awards reception, where she was shepherded by Irwin, a stream of artists and admirers, stopped at her table in the corner to pay respects to the woman who blazed the way for the generation of female stars who followed.
Her new project and the tribute CD, if and when Rounder releases them, are likely to renew a push among some admirers for her induction in the bluegrass hall of fame. She has received other honors from IBMA, including a distinguished achievement award in 1993 and song of the year honors in 1996 for Lynn Morris’ recording of Mama’s Hands.
[Editor’s note] Below is video (in two parts) from a Hazel Dickens profile aired on West Virginia Public Broadcasting when she was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of fame in 2007.