In celebration of the iconic bluegrass duo, Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, Smithsonian Folkways are to release three new re-issues of their classic albums to honour the music, legacy, and influence of the pioneering partnership. Their first two albums, Who’s That Knocking? and Won’t You Come and Sing For Me? – which have been unavailable on vinyl for over forty years – have been newly remastered and will be released on vinyl and for streaming on October 21. These albums have never before been available in their original track sequences on streaming or as downloads.
The third album due for release is a remastered Pioneering Women of Bluegrass: The Definitive Edition which collects all of Hazel and Alice’s Folkways material. The album will be available for streaming and as a CD. This edition will also include comprehensive track notes, an expanded essay by Gerrard, new liner notes by Laurie Lewis and Peter Siegel, new photos, and a previously unheard cover of the Louvin Brothers’ Childish Love.
These iconic recordings tell the story of two women whose inventiveness, conviction, and grit allowed them access to stages, audiences, and a legacy previously only afforded to men. After Hazel and Alice entered the picture, bluegrass would never be the same. “I think this is one of the all-time historic records,” Dickens wrote of Who’s That Knocking? “To my knowledge, it was the first time that two women sat down and picked out a bunch of songs and had guts enough to stand behind what they picked out and say: ‘We’re not changing anything; you have to do it or else.’”
The music that Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard recorded together beginning in 1965 has influenced generations of musicians across a number of genres, primarily women, including Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Rhiannon Giddens.
Inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2017, Dickens and Gerrard broke down the barriers of the good ol’ boy network in the bluegrass community they helped redefine.
“We have had women come up to us all through the years and talk about the first records we made and what an impact it had on their lives,” Dickens wrote in 1996. “I just think it was an eye-opener for a lot of people to hear two women singing together, doing what the men did in bluegrass.”
While older traditional-style songs featured strongly in their repertoire throughout their careers, their music developed a political dimension over time as they began to write about social and industrial issues.
As Hazel Dickens once explained, “I didn’t have to work in a factory to see how badly women were treated. Playing in bluegrass, a male-dominated form of music, was enough.” Among her stand-out compositions were Don’t Put Her Down You Helped Put Her There and Black Lung, written after her brother’s death from pneumoconiosis — the lung disease prevalent among coal miners. The song subsequently featured in the Oscar-winning documentary, Harlan County USA, about a Kentucky coal strike.
For her part, Alice Gerrard wrote the powerful Beaufort County Jail about Jo Ann
Little, a Black woman charged with murder for defending herself during an attempted sexual assault by a white man. In the late 1960s, the duo took part in the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project – a racially integrated initiative to reflect on working class struggles.
Dickens passed away in 2011 in Washington, DC, from complications of pneumonia. Gerrard lives in Durham, North Carolina, and still tours regularly – performing at the 2022 Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington.