Bessie Jones: songs, games, dances
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Bessie Jones: songs, games, dances

Desert Dancer 09 Feb 17 - 02:30 PM
Desert Dancer 09 Feb 17 - 02:37 PM
Janie 10 Feb 17 - 08:55 PM
Desert Dancer 27 Mar 17 - 03:19 PM
Mark Ross 27 Mar 17 - 06:23 PM
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Subject: Bessie Jones: songs, games, dances
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 09 Feb 17 - 02:30 PM

Although her name comes up in many threads here in the context of Georgia Sea Islands songs, and children's games and dances, Bessie Jones doesn't have her own thread.

Born in 1902 in Georgia, Bessie Jones began doing full-time professional childcare at age 9 or 10, and had her own first child at age 12. Everyone in her family was musical, and through marriage to her second husband she gained connection to the culture of St. Simons in the Georgia Sea Islands. She and her husband moved there, and she eventually joined Spiritual Singers of Coastal Georgia, an ensemble dedicated to the preservation of the ways of their forbears.

Alan Lomax came to St. Simon in 1959 and met her and the singers, and in 1960 recruited them for inclusion in a film about the music of the Colonial Williamsburg era. Her experience there with other musicians led her to feel "called" to share more widely the rich treasury of songs and stories that she had collected from her family (including former slaves) and friends, and in 1961 she showed up at Lomax's door in New York and asked for his help to document it all.

In 1963, the Georgia Sea Island Singers were formally organized as a troupe, to tour and continue in that work.

Bessie Jones was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship in 1982, but died later that year.

Biographic info online:
Bessie Jones at Wikipedia
Bessie Jones, by Peter Stone and Ellen Harold, at the Association for Cultural Equity (Lomax collection) website (the above info is from here)
Bessie Jones, Georgia Sea Island Singer, 1982 NEA National Heritage Fellow
Masters of Traditional Arts: Bessie Jones


For The Ancestors, Autobiographical Memories by Bessie Jones, collected and edited by John Stewart, University of Illinois Press, 1983 (out of print)

Step It Down, Games, Plays, Songs, and Stories from the Afro-American Heritage, book by Bessie Jones and Bess Lomax Hawes, University of Georgia Press, 1972, 1987


Folk Alliance International Lifetime Achievement Award 2015 film, a 7+ minute general overview, written and narrated by Scott Alarik

Bessie Jones: Vol. 1 of All Things Shall Be Remembered and Vol. 2. All Things Shall Be Remembered: Plays and Reflections from an African-American Childhood was made by Elizabeth Seamans at the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in the 1970s. These are the best video record on the internet of Bessie Jones doing her musical work with children. [If you come to this thread on that topic, see also this other film, "Alison McMorland: Children's Games from Tradition in the British Isles".]

The Films of Bess Lomax Hawes page from Media Generation for a DVD with four films, including GEORGIA SEA ISLAND SINGERS (1964) (Shot in 35mm film with multiple cameras on a soundstage when the Sea Island Singers were visiting Los Angeles, this program presents a small part of their repertoire of sacred music, including the songs- Moses, Yonder Comes Day, Buzzard Lope (Throw Me Anywhere Lord), Adam in the Garden (Picking up Leaves), and Down in the Mire (Bright Star Shinning in Glory).) YouTube clips of Yonder Come Day and Throw Me Anywhere Lord are on this page.

"Bessie Jones" search results at YouTube Most of these are uploads of songs from audio recordings

Partial Discography (from Wikipedia):
Get in Union (Tompkins Square) 2015
Join the Band: The Georgia Sea Island Singers (Global Jukebox) 2012
Southern Journey Recordings, V. 12, Georgia Sea Islands: Songs and Spirituals (Rounder 1712) (available from Amazon and itunes and other sources)
Southern Journey Recordings, V. 13, Earliest Times: Georgia Sea Island: Songs for Everyday Living (Rounder 1713) (available from Amazon and itunes and other sources)
Put Your Hand On Your Hip, and Let Your Backbone Slip: Songs and Games from the Georgia Sea Islands (Rounder 11587) 2001, the definitive collection of her things for children, with detailed notes, still available
Step It Down (Rounder) 1979, songs and games, no longer available
So Glad I'm Here (Rounder 2015) originally 1974, songs and games, no longer available

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Subject: RE: Bessie Jones: songs, games, dances
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 09 Feb 17 - 02:37 PM

(that's me, Becky, Long Beach, above)

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Subject: RE: Bessie Jones: songs, games, dances
From: Janie
Date: 10 Feb 17 - 08:55 PM

Wonderful, Becky. Thank you!

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Subject: RE: Bessie Jones: songs, games, dances
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 27 Mar 17 - 03:19 PM

Also on YouTube: Accent: music and dance of the Georgia Sea Islands (1962)

'A [30-minute] segment on the Georgia Sea Island Singers shot at St. Simons Island – featuring Bessie Jones, John Davis, Peter Davis, Willis Proctor, Mable Hillery, Emma Lee Ramsey, Joe Dixon, Joe Armstrong, and others unidentified, and guest host Alan Lomax – from the short-lived CBS educational program "Accent," hosted by poet John Ciardi, 1962. (Commercials retained.)'

Bessie Jones appears at roughly 4mins - 17mins

~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: Bessie Jones: songs, games, dances
From: Mark Ross
Date: 27 Mar 17 - 06:23 PM

I had the privilege of getting to know Bessie Jones and the rest of the Sea Island Singers when I met them on The Poor Peoples Campaign in Resurrection City in Washington D.C. in 1968. What wonderful, warm, friendly people. The showed the different handclaps they used (bass, tenor, alto), although I could never quite get the rhythms quite right.

Mark Ross

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