Folk legend Jean Ritchie sits outside her cabin with George Pickow, husband, noted New York photographer and film maker in Viper, Kentucky, in 1997. Jean Ritchie died June 1, 2015. (AJC Staff Photo/John Harmon) October 1997

Jean Ritchie, folk, mountain music legend: An appreciation from the AJC archives

Jean Ritchie's voice ---untrained, pure and powerful ---still rises high and clear, like the deep blue sky of autumn over her beloved Cumberland Mountains. Often accompanied by the simple melodic drone of her trademark mountain dulcimer, it harks back to a time when the human voice was instrument enough.

[ Editor's note: Appalchian dulcimer musician Jean Ritchie died June 1, 2015. This article was originally published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Oct. 15, 1997. A memorial gathering for Jean Ritchie is scheduled from 2 p.m. Sunday at Union Church in Berea, Ky, followed by a 4 p.m. Memorial Service. According to kentucky. Davis and Powell Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. According to, her family asks that donations be made in lieu of flowers to Appalachian Voices, 171 Grand Boulevard, Boone, N.C. 28607.  ]

At 74, one of the greatest living American folk singers still performs, records and composes ---despite having to steady herself with a cane, albeit an intricately carved one, made by her late brother-in-law. She returns Friday and Saturday to Asheville's Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands for something of a double anniversary: Ritchie performed at the first fair in 1948 at the beginning of her singing career, and she's back for its 50th.

Despite the years, Ritchie is still beautiful. Her blue eyes sparkle; her waves of strawberry blond hair ---now with a touch of gray ---are pulled back from a well-lined face.

"You have so much highly produced music these days that you rarely hear someone just get up onstage and sing, " Ritchie tells an admiring audience later that night at nearby Asbury College. "But as long as they keep inviting me, " she adds, "I'll keep singing."

A tribute to Jean Ritchie on Appalachian Voices begins with this line: Above all, kindness always lit up the face of Jean Ritchie.

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