March-April 2013

Singin’ the Moon Up

By Susie Glaze

Montain_Born_-_Jean_Ritchie_and_sonsHello friends and welcome to my brand new column for FolkWorks. I’m delighted to join such a wonderful company of writers and I look forward to contributing to the discussion of folk music with my particular specialty in mind.

In this bi-monthly column I will be writing about subjects relating to Appalachian singing styles and a selected history of this music. I will be drawing upon my own personal experience with the great American folk music icon Jean Ritchie. The column will incorporate anecdotal material as well as references to her prolific songwriting and influence on the Folk Revival movement. I will be quoting short lyric sections, drawing from source material as well as including pertinent videos.


Some of you may ask whatever happened to Jean Ritchie. I’m happy to report that she is doing fine and has now returned to live in her native Kentucky after so many years of living in New York, her adopted home. Here is a short update:

In December of 2009 our dear friend suffered a stroke. A few months after that I was able to pay a visit to Jean and her husband, George Pickow, also a wonderful friend of ours, and a former photographer, a brilliant chronicler of the Folk Revival movement in New York. We sang songs and Jean remembered so much. A few months after that visit, and one year after Jean’s stroke, George very sadly passed away, in December of 2010. The Ritchie/Pickow family has since moved Jean down to Berea in Kentucky where she is now residing among family and watched over and cared for there. I know that she is well and comfortable and in many ways is enjoying life. In fact, at an informal musical reunion lately it was told that Jean sat up with them singing for over five hours, at which they were all amazed. I know that through it all, my friend is still here, and I’m looking forward to paying her a visit very soon.

As I write, it is still winter, but this publication will take us into the onset of spring which brings to mind seasonal music of the mountains. Now that I’m thinking of Jean, I will share one of my favorite of her songs of spring, May Day Day.

Cold and dark the winter, in March it snows again.

Through the rains of April, spring comes stealin’ in;

Smilin’ ‘oer the meadow in the risin’ light of day;

Beauty is reborn again every first of May!

For when I’m walkin’ with my darlin’ on a May day day,

Walkin’ with my darlin’ on a May day day,

Oh there’s nothin’ much a doin’ and little for to say;

But oh my heart is happy on a May day day!

Folks are cold and distant, the world’s about to freeze,

Never has the world known harder times than these;

Suffering world forgive me and grant me just a day;

I cannot help but hope again, every first of May!

For when I’m walkin’ with my darlin’ on a May day day,

Walkin’ with my darlin’ on a May day day,

Oh there’s nothin’ much a doin’ and little for to say;

But oh my heart is happy on a May day day!

This sweet reflection is made the more beautiful by the music, pensive but joyful. Jean told me about how the words started out as “walking with my Geordie”…which she used to refer to her husband George. She was inspired by the Scottish and Irish lilts she had been studying while on Fulbright scholarship in the 1950s. Son Jon Pickow tells the story of the song and its origin in this wonderful video he just filmed recently:

Estill Bingham’s Cookhouse Joe

Jean’s beautiful recording of this song, with warm and lovely guitar work by son Peter Pickow, can be found on her 1996 CD Mountain Born.

In singing this to myself, I think how rare it is now for us in this modern culture to find ourselves in the middle of a truly peaceful moment with “nothin’ much a-doin’.” Have we even forgotten how to be still and know the joy of just being in this world, what with our fast and loud culture moving ever faster and louder with each passing day? Sometimes I fear for us (and for myself) and our growing inability to know and relish peace, even when it’s right in front of us at the dawning of spring. When have you last allowed yourself just a moment’s simplicity like this? When have we last had faith in the natural world and its quiet, gentle way of healing?

Perhaps you’ll find some time this spring to revel in peaceful solitude amongst the growing and blossoming world. I hope you do. And if you’re lucky, you’ll do it on May Day Day.

Happy Spring everyone!

Award-winning recording artist and critically-acclaimed powerhouse vocalist, Susie Glaze has been called "one of the most beautiful voices in bluegrass and folk music today." (Roz Larman of FolkScene). With her Hilonesome Band, their album “Blue Eyed Darlin’” was the winner of the Just Plain Folks 2006 Music Award for Best Roots Album and FolkWorks Magazine's Pick for Best Bluegrass Album of 2005. Their newest CD “White Swan” will be released March 19, 2013.


All Columns by Susie Glaze