In episodes 29 & 30 of the Social Work Conversations Podcast, we explore the life of folk singer and social worker Jean Ritchie.

In episode 29, we will talk about Jean's history in connection to the University of Kentucky's College of Social Work. Jason Johnston, our producer, and I (Blake Jones) are big fans of Jean's music and we will pay tribute to her by playing and singing a few of her songs.

Social Work Conversations - Episode #29

In episode 30 of the podcast, we talk to singer-songwriter Carla Gover. As a young woman growing up in Letcher County, Kentucky, Carla talks about how Jean mentored and inspired her to carry on the traditions of mountain music. Carla sings a few of Jean’s songs and we talk with her about issues of social justice around music, the arts, the life of Jean Ritchie.

Social Work Conversations - Episode #30

Jean Ritchie’s Connection to the College of Social Work
(Partial Transcript of Episode 29)

Jean Ritchie - UK Memorial Hall

Jean was born on December 8, 1922, in Viper, Kentucky. Viper is in the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky. She was the youngest of 14 siblings, and she was one of ten girls who slept in just one room of the family’s farmhouse.

Jean was born into a very musical family, and this early appreciation of traditional ballads and folk music led her to carry the tradition on, not only in Kentucky but around the world. She performed with Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, and many others.
Jean has been described as the “mother of folk music.” Her primary instrument, the mountain dulcimer, made a perfect backdrop for her lilting, high soprano voice. In the 1950s and ’60s, she became an international ambassador of traditional folk music, and her travels took her to the stages of Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival.

In 1950, Jean was married to George Pickow, a photographer and music historian, and they remained a powerful team until George’s death in 2010.

Blackwaters - Blake Jones & Jason Paul Johnston
Wayfaring-Stranger - Blake Jones & Jason Paul Johnston

UK Founder's Day concert poster
UK Founder's Day concert
Although Jean was best known as an internationally acclaimed folk singer, we also appreciate her in our College because she was one of our first graduates. Jean graduated from the UK College of Social Work in 1946. While she was here, she taught herself to play piano and participated in the Glee club and choir. After graduating from the College, she moved to New York City, where she got a job teaching music to children at the Henry Street Settlement.

In 1999, Jean was inducted into the UK College of Social Work Hall of Fame. She returned to the University of Kentucky many times to perform, and she always had a deep love for her home state.

In episode 19, we talked to Dr. Kay Hoffman, a close friend of Jean’s and our College’s Dean for many years. Listen to the podcast for an unaired part of that interview where Kay talks about her connection to Jean.

(see Podcast for the full segment with Kay Hoffman talking about Jean Ritchie, the first graduate of the school of Social Work at UK)

Pretty Saro - Blake Jones & Jason Paul Johnston
Jean died on June 1, 2015, leaving behind a rich musical and professional legacy that continues to inspire.

Jean Ritchie color photo
Jean Ritchie - 1922-2015

Ep 29 Track List and Music Links
1. Barbary Allen by Jean Ritchie from British Traditional Ballads in the Southern Mountains, Volume 1 © Folkways
2. The L & N Don’t Come Here Anymore – Blake & Jason
3. Wayfaring Stranger – Blake & Jason
4. Hangman by Jean Ritchie from British Traditional Ballads in the Southern Mountains, Volume 1 © Folkways
5. Blackwaters by Blake & Jason
6. Pretty Saro by Blake & Jason
7. Shady Grove by Jean Ritchie from Marching Across The Green Grass and Other American Children's Game Songs © Folkways 1968

Ep 30 Track List and Music Links
1. The Young Man that Wouldn’t Raise Corn – Carla Gover
2. Paper of Pins – Carla Gover
3. Sorrow in the Wind – Carla Gover
4. Cool of the Day – Jean Ritchie

More resources:
1. Wonderful Tribute
2. More bibliography from KET
3. UK Alumni Page
4. About Jean’s social work practice
5. Alan Lomax Recordings