Whitesburg KY
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Mostly cloudy

At its best, county is ‘wonderful place’

To the Editor:

Week before last saw the passing of Jean Ritchie, eastern Kentucky’s greatest traditional folksinger, at the age of 92. I would not have come to Letcher County 50 years ago had it not been for reading in college her wonderful “Singing Family of the Cumberlands” and Harry M. Caudill’s great “Night Comes to the Cumberlands”.

Appalshop’s 39th “Seedtime on the Cumberlands” festival was a wonderful celebration of Appalachian culture on a most beautiful June weekend.

Along with honoring Jean Ritchie with her songs and our remembrances, the festival focused on the centennial year of America’s greatest recorder of all of America’s traditional music (including Jean Ritchie’s) — Alan Lomax. Some of us experienced his video and audio clips all the way back from the 1930s of mountain people singing, dancing, and praying.

As week before last’s Mountain Eagle photo showed, we saw and heard simultaneously Old Regular Baptist Elders Manis Ison and I.D. Back praying outside at an Old Regular Baptist meeting in Blackey in 1959, and we heard live Elder James Caudill explain and sing short, common, and long meter hymns after we watched an old Lomax sound video of the Thornton Old Regular Baptist meeting that James had attended.

Appalshop honored my Carcassonne with a lively revival of our square dance with the 87-yearold Lee Sexton’s band and great young new dancers from the small but enthusiastic crowd.

Earlier in the day I munched “Grow Appalachia” project raw sweet green peas, heard wonderful original songs from Rob Gipe’s “Higher Ground” community drama group from Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Cumberland, watched a new film documentary on the Kentucky River by Herb E. Smith, whose first film was the fictional story of a Letcher County teenager with coal “In Ya Blood”, and “squandered” my teacher’s pension on buying a beautiful placemat woven on a 1942 (my birthdate) loom, cuff links of New Zealand abalone, framed dried wild roses by the Vermilion women, and a “mini-masterpiece” watercolor painting of a Pine Mountain sunset by Jeff Chapman Crane. All this was (mostly) free for our Letcher County people and visitors who came out to enjoy our mountain natural and cultural heritage.

Letcher County at its best is an absolutely wonderful place that deserves enjoying its present, preserving its past, and advancing itself into the future. Back in May a wonderful older couple, Vaughn and Sandy Grisham, community developers from Bakersville, N.C. and Tupelo, Miss., challenged Letcher Countians at a “summit conference” up at the county extension office to get beyond the dreams of saving and growing Whitesburg, Jenkins, and Blackey facing the decline of our coal industry and population into poverty, welfare, drugs, crime, and death.

Together we can enjoy, save, and grow the Letcher County and Appalachia we love.


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