Singing Family of the Cumberlands

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Overview

The "singing family" of which Jean Ritchie writes is that of her parents, Balis and Abigail Ritchie, and their fourteen children, all born and reared in Viper, Kentucky, deep in the Cumberland Mountains. Jean, the youngest of the clan, grew up to be a world renowned folksinger. But she was hardly unique in the family. All the Ritchies sang -- when they worked, when they prayed, when they rejoiced, even when tragedy struck.

Singing Family of the Cumberlands is both an appealing account of family life and a treasury of American folklore and folksong. In the deceptively simple but picturesque language of rural Kentucky, Jean Ritchie tells of a way of life now nearly vanished and of a gentle, upright people shielded from the outside world by forbidding mountain ranges, preserving the traditions of their forebears.

Foremost among those traditions were the British folksongs brought from England by James Ritchie in 1768. Even in a region noted for its wealth of folksongs, the Ritchies' inheritance was exceptional. Forty-two of the family's beloved songs are woven through Jean Ritchie's narrative, complete with words and often musical scores. Each song evokes a memory for Jean -- hoeing corn, stirring off molasses, telling ghost stories, singing a dying baby to its eternal rest. Songs lightened the burden of poverty for the Ritchies and brought them joy and solace. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Singing Family of the Cumberlands will delight readers in all walks of life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Ritchie writes as she sings -- naturally and with an instinctive sense for rhythms. Her story of her rearing in the hill-circled town of Viper is simple, vivid, and moving.... A beautiful story of American living." -- New York Herald Tribune

"The Ritchies are rare peope, of sturdy poineer stock. Jean Ritchie sees them fondly, and the reader is likely to share her warmth." -- New York Times Book Review

"The remarkably gentle nature of the book seems even more remarkable when on considers its locale -- the stern, rugged Cumberland Mountains, a stratified rock escarpment in the Appalachian Range. Seen through the gracious prose of Jean Ritchie, however, the cruel, forbidding mountains become kindly shields against the bustling outside work." -- Saturday Review of Literature

"The rich headnotes and photographs speak to the regional culture, the history of the songs and the family's life of simple, enduring values." -- Come-All-Ye

"What a pleasure it is to have this book back in print... each time I open it and re-read the lyrics, I can hear, in my mind's ear, Jean Ritchie's voice, as so many have heard it, clear, calm, and strong." -- Paintsville Herald

"Singing Family of the Cumberlands, her memoir about growing up in Perry County, is considered a gem of Appalachian literature." -- Jason Howard, Kentucky Living

"Birth, death, marrying, first love, going to the settlement schools -- the full round of living is here. Jean writes with such tenderness at times that one murmures an apology for intruding on the family circle." -- Chicago Tribune

"The rich headnotes and photographs speak to the regional culture, the history of the songs and the family's life of simple, enduring values." -- Come-All-Ye

""Ritchie writes as she sings -- naturally and with an instinctive sense for rhythms. Her story of her rearing in the hill-circled town of Viper is simple, vivid, and moving.... A beautiful story of American living."" -- New York Herald Tribune

""The Ritchies are rare peope, of sturdy poineer stock. Jean Ritchie sees them fondly, and the reader is likely to share her warmth."" -- New York Times Book Review

"Birth, death, marrying, first love, going to the settlement schools -- the full round of living is here. Jean writes with such tenderness at times that one murmures an apology for intruding on the family circle." -- Chicago Tribune

""Her memoire about growing up in Perry County is considered a gem of Appalachian literature."" -- Kentucky Living

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813101866
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 8/28/1988
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 984,987
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean Ritchie continues to perform at folk festivals, to record, and to publish music.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 31, 2009

    Heartwarming

    A fascinating insight into the lives, the families, and the hardships faced and overcome by the people of the Appalachian areas of this great country. The family values and inner strengths are among the greatest assets of the American citizens. A very good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2004

    An American Treasure!

    A genuine and rich personal history of one of our own treasures--Jean Ritchie. You will have a hard time putting down this book. You feel as if you are huddled around the fireplace with Jean and her family as she relates vivid stories of her upbringing in Kentucky. It tells of times now long ago in a natural and charming fashion. It educates and entertains. A must for any enthusiast of the history, music, and dialects of the US.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2004

    Hooray for Jean Ritchie!

    I read Jean's book many years ago. The Singing Family of the Cumberlands is a wonderful book. Jean and I are double related. We share both Ritchie and Sizemore ancestry. This book taught me so much about a place I have never visited and a time that I have never lived in. I loved the stories about going off to the city to school and visitng home on week ends. My favorite stories were about how her family celebrated Christmas in the mountains. Also, the molasses stir-offs and stories about Grama Catty were really special. Read the book and you too will find something special about it. I enjoyed seeing what it would be like to live in such a large family. I can't remember how many children their were, but I think about 14. They were a family with many rich traditions. Oh, I don't want to forget to mention that they sang, also. They took occaison to sing for WHATEVER reason. Another favorite part of the book is when Jean's teacher gives her the assignment to find information on her ancestors. Wow! What an exciting time she had. She took the school bus to the edge of the forest, then she walked the rest of the way through the mountains, on foot to find Uncle Jason's house. He had the whole family history memorized. If it had not been for Jean, many, or maybe all, of the family would still be wondering about their ancestral connections.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2000

    The Cumberlands come to life - review by Doni Barnes

    I found myself laughing while reading this book, and crying, at times, too. Jean has a style of writing that makes the reader feel like he/she's there. The people come to life, and you find yourself living with them in the Kentucky Cumberlands. I don't think I've ever even been there, and this book made me homesick. Of course, if you're looking for crime and action, this isn't the book for you. This book is about 'down home' living when chores were really chores and food was home grown. In ways, it was a simpler kind of life, but in other ways, it was a lot harder. You won't find this information in a history book. History books always put a tint on the past, leaving out peoples' mistakes and their imperfections. This is a real family story told by a real family person. It's evident that the two most important things in the writer's life were her family and their musical life together. On a different level, I can't tell you, as an amateur genealogist, how valuable this book is to me. Every page has stories about the people who grew up in the time and place of my kin, many of them even mentioned by name. The next time I read it, I will be gleaning information for my tree!! And this is one of the few books that I will read again and again. Good job, Jean Ritchie. Thank you for bringing the Cumberlands of Kentucky to life for your readers.

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