Singing Family of the Cumberlands

Jean Ritchie (1922-2015)
Singing Family of the Cumberlands
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
New York: Oxford University Press, 1955

Singing Family is a memoir of folk singer Jean Ritchie’s
own family—she was the youngest of fourteen, born
in 1922—and of life in and around her Viper, Kentucky
home in the Cumberland Gap in the Appalachian
Mountains. Ritchie published this book when she was 33,
already credited in the world of “serious” folk music as a
sort of living memory of the songs that had been sung in
Appalachia since the first British settlers arrived.

It includes lyrics and music for many of her best-known
songs. The drawings are almost heartbreakingly lovely—
no surprise since this is one of the first books illustrated
by Maurice Sendak before he began writing and
illustrating his own work in 1956.

I grew up with this book. I loved it so much that when
I worked at WBAI radio in the 1970s I produced a
complete reading of it for “Continued Tomorrow,” and
recorded an interview with Ms. Ritchie in her Port
Jefferson, New York home. She let me hold her dulcimer.

Lorraine Bodger (member)
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