A new film by Julia Golonka about IBMA Hall of Famer Hazel Dickens takes its title from Dickens’ powerful anthem Don’t put her down, you helped put her thereand explores how she, along with her musical partner Alice Gerrard, became the first woman to lead a bluegrass band, and reflects on the role of women in bluegrass today.
The short film – 32 minutes long – covers Hazel’s migration to Baltimore from the coal country of West Virginia, her activism for coal miners and workers, and the impact her upbringing had on her writing. songs. Longtime collaborators and up-and-coming musicians share what it means to have bluegrass songs written from a woman’s perspective and to keep Hazel’s memory alive.
Golonka provides this background information…
“Until I came across the music of Hazel Dickens, I hadn’t realized that until then I was mainly listening to men playing bluegrass. I was listening to a playlist of covers of Long Veil Black, and when the Hazel and Alice version came out, I was absolutely smitten with her voice. I then found the Women bluegrass pioneers album, and that’s when I really dove into his music. I was telling a musician friend about her, and he mentioned that her nephew Buddy lives in Baltimore and is active in the music scene. I met Buddy in early 2017 and pitched my idea for this movie and he was very supportive of me, and I finished the movie in December 2021. Hazel and Alice were inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame at fall of 2017, and that was the first big shoot I did for the movie. I ended up not using any of the footage from the ceremony, but it was still so inspiring to be there and see how many people were touched by Hazel’s music.
After that shoot, I was touring with Hazel’s nephew, Buddy, and some Baltimore-based musicians, and learning more about Hazel, and really starting the movie in 2019. I was accepted as a member of the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund to Johns Hopkins with this project, and it provided me with storytelling workshops, commentary, a great editing mentor who knew Hazel’s music, and then I also received funding for the film from SZIF. This funding was absolutely essential and made the film possible. While I was working on this film, I ended up having a lot more filming opportunities than I thought! I thought I would mostly be filming interviews and working with archival content, but several things have happened over the past few years – Hazel and Alice being inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, Hazel’s induction into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame, the release of Sing Me Home: The DC Tapes, and the unveiling of the Hazel Dickens Memorial Bridge. The fact that Hazel continues to be honored in the years since her death made me feel like it was a fitting time to make this movie and that Hazel’s fan following just kept growing.
One shoot that stood out was going down to her hometown of Montcalm, West Virginia to film the dedication of the Hazel Dickens Memorial Bridge on her birthday in 2019. Her nephew Buddy took us (myself and a production assistant/camera) at a jam with musicians who had played with Hazel, we heard stories from them, and we visited her grave. The film ends with the bridge dedication ceremony, which seemed like the best way to honor her since so many of her songs are about her home.
The film features interviews with Ginny Hawker, Dudley Connell, Ketch Secor, Karen Collins, Molly Tuttle, Avery Hellman, Tom Gray and Buddy Dickens.
Throughout the film, scenes from Hazel’s life take place on a Crankie, a hand-scrolling panorama with cut-out paper and shadow puppets. As my film is a story about the past turned towards the future, I was attracted by the use of this archaic form of narration and its digital presentation. Baltimore has a very active Crankie scene, and I worked with papercut artist Katherine Fahey to create the Crankies for my film. There’s a long Crankie scene in the movie where Lost Patterns plays in its entirety, and it’s the only full Hazel song we hear. I chose this song because Hazel mentions that she is most proud of her songwriting and this song is the one she is especially proud of.
Some screenings to come…
Albuquerque Movie + Music Experience – Friday, September 16, 2022, 9:30 a.m., NHCC – Wells Fargo Theater, 1701 4th St. SW, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87102, (in-person screening) and until November 18, 2022 (for online viewing)[thisistheonlyvirtualoptioncurrentlyscheduled][ils’agitdelaseuleoptionvirtuelleactuellementprévue)[thisistheonlyvirtualoptioncurrentlyscheduled)
Barely Strictly Bluegrass – Friday, September 30, 2022. 7:30 p.m., Just Out of the Park, Sweetwater Music Hall, 19 Corte Madera Avenue, Mill Valley, CA 94941
New Haven Documentary Film Festival – Saturday, October 22, 2022, 4:00 p.m., Bow-Tie Criterion Cinemas – Screening Room 8, 86 Temple Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06510
Reading Film Fest, Reading, PA – Sunday, October 30, 2022, GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, Boscov Theater, 201 Washington Street, Reading, PA 19601
To sign up for notifications about other screenings, contact Julia Golonka, visit her website.
- Director / Producer: Julia Golonka
- Editorial Assistant: Madeline Becker
- Consulting Editor: Kirsten Hollander
- Director of photography: Michael O’Leary, Julia Golonka
- Composer: Connor Vance
- Sound Engineer: Tim St. Clair
- Archives Assistant: Clara Rieldinger
Hazel Dickens was born in Montcalm, Mercer County, West Virginia on June 1, 1925, the eighth of eleven siblings in a mining family of six boys and five girls.
She was a bluegrass music pioneer—one of the first women to lead a bluegrass band—and a songwriter who wrote about coal miners, unionization, hard times, and feminism, among other topics.
During his lifetime, Dickens received numerous awards for his contributions to music. She was the first woman to receive an Award of Merit from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in 1993 for her contributions to bluegrass music. In 1995, Dickens was inducted into the Hall of Greats of the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music Association and three years later was named a Traditional Female Vocalist Award at the Washington DC area WAMMIE® Awards.
Among them are a National Heritage Fellowship in 2001 and a National Heritage Award in 2008 from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 from what is now Folk Alliance International.
She was among the first inductees into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
The DC Bluegrass Union created the Hazel Dickens Songwriting Contest in her name.
Julia Golonka is an editor and cinematographer with a degree in film from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She has worked on several feature documentaries, including wing anatomy and It’s not who I am. She specializes in musical cinematography.
His work has been featured online by Rolling Stone, Relix and Bluegrass Today.