Unique to Jean, are varried opportunities to experience original music in a setting of an old mountain family in the Appalachians at Viper, Kentucky. Jean went to NY, but very fortunately some people heard her singing some of her family songs where she worked. Now Jean's a very unassuming person and it took others to convince her that she had something very unique to share. But once she decided to share it, she did (does) so with a most intimate humility. There could be others like her, but I haven't explored far enough to meet them in any form.
Just last night, before I found this thread, I was reading the Christmas chapter from "Singing Family of the Cumberlands". I've owned the book for many years and the Christmas stories have time and again become a Christmas season ritual. John Langstaff brought Jean to American Christmas Revels to tell her stories, which I saw. Very nice, but I'm not sure if Jean is still occassionally doing Revels. So along with the earlier posts, yes indeed read the Singing Family of the Cumberlands; it is essential to the Jean Ritchie experience. We are most fortunate that she took the time to write that book. All the other chapters contain the same tenderness of experiences that will make you quietly smile or cry. I recommend owning it, but it is hard to come by these days.
I also had the privelege to hear Jean in person at a small coffee house in Hartford, CT run by the late Bill Domler in the basement of an old nearly abandoned Methodist church tucked in some tiny old residential streets. What I've said of her above and knew from her music and writings was very present in the person. That evening will probably always remain to be my "best" evening concert. I'll never forget her story behind and singing of "What'll We Do With the Baby-Oh" from that evening. Very easy to fall in love with such a woman.
Curiously I only own her Kentucky Christmas recording. The reason why is that I first met Jean from picking up her old Oak publications songbnok. I'm more of a song reader than a song listener, and I found myself slowly absorbing just about every song in that book. I used her younger kid songs in teaching and the rest for my own pleasure. Having no family song background of my own, I adopted Jean's. It's hard to describe what the quality is, but I would say 'straightforward' comes close. I could relate to naturalness of the tune lines that are really foreign to most people. They are intricity bound in simplicity.
Yeah, it's really easy to see why you like Jean!