Kathy Mattea: My Coal Journey
Twice named Female Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association, Kathy Mattea carved out a role for herself in the late 1980s and 1990s as a sensitive yet energetic artist, at ease both with country tradition and free-ranging innovation. The West Virginia native won her first Grammy in 1990. With close to 30 Top 40 country hits, including four Number One entries, and a platinum-selling greatest hits compilation, she is among the most successful women in the genre’s history, yet her creative spirit has led her to explore musical territory extending well beyond its confines.
Mattea says that her 2008 album offered her a “reeducation” in singing. That album, Coal, is a reeducation for the listener as well, a record that reshapes the way we think about music, reminding us of why we love it so much in the first place. The songs on Coal are more than just mining songs. Mattea says she wanted to pay tribute to “my place and my people” on a record that is as much a textured novel as it is an album. Mattea's mining heritage is thick: Both her parents grew up in coal camps, both her grandfathers were miners, and her mother worked for the local UMWA. Her father was saved from the mines by an uncle who paid his way through college. “It’s a coming together of a lot of different threads in my life,” Mattea says.
Now, Mattea presents My Coal Journey, a one-hour program incorporating stories from her family history and her current advocacy for the environment combined with a slideshow and a performance of songs from Coal. The presentation traces her motivation for beginning the recording project, her research into the musical genre’s history and elemental style, and her family’s ties to coal mining culture in Appalachia, along with discussion of environmental and social justice issues surrounding coal mining methods in today’s world.