Bessie Jones 1961-1962
Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle made recordings in the Georgia Sea Islands in 1935. When Lomax returned to St. Simons Island in 1959, he met Bessie Jones, whom he recognized as a major artist. Bessie Jones was born in 1902 in North Georgia, where she learned the songs and stories of her grandfather, a former slave who was part Native American. As a very young girl she married into St. Simons Island and eventually became a leading tradition-bearer in the community of Frederica. In the 1960s, with the assistance of Alan Lomax, Bessie Jones, together with John Davis, Peter Davis, Mable Hillery, Emma Ramsey, and Henry Morrison, formed the Georgia Sea Island Singers and traveled to colleges and folk music venues throughout the country. During this period, Bess Lomax Hawes collaborated with Bessie on the book, Step It Down, a study of African-American children’s game songs, which remains a classic in its field. Bessie died in 1984 in Brunswick, Georgia.
In 1961, Bessie traveled to New York City and asked Alan Lomax to record her biography and repertoire, which he did with his then wife, Antoinette Marchand. The interviews lasted over a period of three months and resulted in the fifty hours of recordings in this collection. The grace and power of Bessie Jones’ singing and the breadth of her repertoire can be heard on two albums in the Southern Journey series on Rounder Records. More information in our Friends & Colleagues section.