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Kathy Mattea: Why Music Matters

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Monday April 07, 2014

From Making Music

Kathy Mattea: Activist & Musician Reveals Why Music Matters
By: Cherie Yurco

One of the most successful female country musicians of all time, Kathy Mattea has had numerous top 40 hits in her three-decade career. Early hits include “Love at the Five and Dime” and “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses.” Her more recent projects have focused on old-time Appalachian music. Born in Cross Lanes, West Virginia, Mattea went back to her roots in coal country after the Sago mine disaster in 2006, where 13 miners were trapped and 12 died following an explosion.

“I was riveted by this story, and frankly shocked at how much emotion I felt for people I had never met,” says Mattea who traveled to Sago to perform at the funeral, which became the inspiration for her album of old-time Appalachian coal songs, Coal (2008).

“Early on I got taught to let the songs lead me, as opposed to chasing something,” she says, and they led her to meet folk musicians like Hazel Dickens and Jean Ritchie, and to record a second album of Appalachian music, Calling Me Home (2010). “I felt like I had discovered this treasure trove of songs, so I didn’t want to stop,” she adds.

Mattea has always made it a point to stand up for what she believes in, and there have been many causes over the years, from HIV/AIDS awareness to environmental issues, especially those related to coal mining, like mountaintop removal. She often uses music to help get her point across. “I can make an argument for you for 30 minutes that won’t convince you, but I can sing you a song in three minutes that will change your heart,” she says.

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