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.