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Music Photographer George Pickow Passes 12.19.10 December 19, 2010

Posted by David W. King in Obituary.
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George Pickow, a photographer best known for the thousands of album covers in which he captured the titans of folk, jazz, and pop music – including Louis Armstrong and Lena Horne – in their midcentury prime, died on December 10 in Rosslyn, New York. He was 88.

The cause was respiratory failure, his son Jon told The New York Times. Pickow was married to the folk singer and dulcimerist Jean Ritchie.

Working quietly behind the scenes, Mr. Pickow documented the bubbling cultural ferment of New York City, and in particular Greenwich Village, where he and Ms. Ritchie lived after they married in 1950.

Working for Elektra Records and other labels, he photographed folk singers like Josh White, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, and, of course, Ms. Ritchie, as well as jazz and pop artists like Little Richard, Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Nina Simone, and Louis Jordan.

Mr. Pickow, who helped his wife collect traditional songs from singers in Appalachia and Britain, contributed photographs to many of her books, among them The Swapping Song Book,”a volume of songs from the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky.

Also an independent filmmaker, Pickow was a cinematographer on Festival, a documentary film about the Newport Folk Festival, directed by Murray Lerner.

From the late 1970s until shortly before his death, Mr. Pickow ran a small record label, Greenhays Recordings, which produced several of Ms. Ritchie’s albums, including Mountain Born, High Hills and Mountains, and The Most Dulcimer. Greenhays also recorded folk artists like John McCutcheon, Mike Seeger, Alice Gerrard, and Lily May Ledford.

George Pickow was born on February 11, 1922, in Los Angeles and reared in Brooklyn. He studied painting at the Cooper Union and during World War II made training films for the Navy.

To impress Ms. Ritchie, Mr. Pickow made her an Appalachian dulcimer. It proved so successful that for about a decade, starting in the early 1960s, he ran a small family dulcimer-making business.

Besides Ms. Ritchie, Mr. Pickow is survived by their songs, Jon and Peter, who sang on many of their mother’s albums, and a sister, Lenette, named for Vladimir Lenin.

While Ms. Ritchie was born to folk music in Kentucky, Mr. Pickow came to it by degrees. “I was mainly into old jazz and blues then.” he told The New York Times in 1980, recalling their meeting in 1948, “and thought nothing was any good unless it was down and dirty. She wasn’t Bessie Smith.” But, he added, “I’ve learned a lot since then.”


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