November 30, 2011

Ritchie Family Christmas Reunion 1955

Before you hang that Christmas tree, look to the Ritchie's for some ideas. The episode was filmed for the Dave Garroway Show in 1955. According to Jean, the filming was "hurried because much of our time was taken by a last-minute decision by NBC to show President Nixon lighting the D.C. Christmas tree." Enjoy.

Bio of Jean Ritchie:

It is impossible to place any one label on Jean Ritchie. She is a traditional musician by virtue of her life and works, but she is also a commercial performer, author, recording artist, composer, and folk music collector.

Ritchie was born in 1922 in Viper, Kentucky, into a family that considered music extremely important. In addition to singing as a means of entertainment, they had songs to accompany nearly all of their activities, from sweeping to churning to working in the fields. When they got together in the evening to sing as a family, they chose from a repertoire of more than 300 songs. Among them were hymns, traditional love songs and ballads, and popular songs by composers like Stephen Foster. For the most part, these songs were learned orally and sung without accompaniment.

While much of the music that was to become central to Ritchie’s later performance repertoire originated at home, other influences on her musical development cannot be overlooked. Besides the songs of family and friends, she was exposed to the music of the Old Regular Baptist church meetings the family attended regularly and to popular culture, particularly radio and recording. It is interesting to note that the one thing absent from Ritchie’s musical background is formal training.

After graduating from high school in Viper, Ritchie attended Cumberland Junior College in Williamsburg, Ky. From there she went to the University of Kentucky, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1946. With a bachelor’s degree in social work in hand, she moved to New York City to work at the Henry Street Settlement. There she drew on her knowledge of family songs to entertain the children in her charge.

Gradually, Ritchie’s reputation as a folk singer grew, and she was asked to perform more formally. (Many of these concert experiences are discussed in the video.) For folk music fans of the 1940s, Ritchie represented the ideal traditional performer: She grew up in the mountains of Kentucky, sang songs that she learned from her family, and played a little-known instrument called a dulcimer.

Ritchie has maintained an active performance schedule ever since. She has played and sung on radio and television, in concerts, and at folk festivals and hootenannies in the U.S. and abroad. As you will see in the program, her friends and acquaintances include many of the most recognizable people in the contemporary folk and country music scenes. When Ritchie’s album None But One won the Rolling Stone Critics’ Award in 1977, her acceptance into the popular mainstream was secured.

bio and photos via

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