ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Musician Hazel Dickens died today. Dickens was born in 1935, but her voice has been called the sound of the mountains in the 19th century.

(Soundbite of song, "Black Lung")

Ms. HAZEL DICKENS (Musician): (Singing) He's had more hard luck than most men could stand. The mines was his first love but never his friend. He's lived a hard life, and hard he'll die. Black lung's done got him. His time is nigh.

SIEGEL: Hazel Dickens grew up poor in West Virginia's coal country, listening to Grand Ole Opry broadcasts on the radio and unaccompanied singing in church. She brought those sounds with her to Baltimore, where she moved to work in a factory when she was still a teenager.

She began to perform her own compositions in the 1960s. They often featured something new: a woman's perspective in a genre more accustomed to songs from the viewpoint of husbands and coal miners.

(Soundbite of song, "Mama's Hand")

Ms. DICKENS: (Singing) Had to look back down the dusty road to Mama and her heavy load. I knew what I was leaving I'd never find again, and it was hard to let go of Mama's hand. My mama's hand...

Dr. RUBENS: Hazel Dickens's influence on generations of country and bluegrass musicians is undisputed, from Emmylou Harris to Alison Krauss. Hazel Dickens died this morning in Washington, D.C., at the age of 75.

(Soundbite of song, "Pretty Bird")

Ms. DICKENS: (Singing) Fly away, little pretty bird, fly away. Fly away, little pretty bird. And pretty you'll always stay.

SIEGEL: This is NPR News.

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