Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers
March 19th, 1974
Bessie Smith Jones (1902-1984) was a singer, teacher, and storyteller, and a member of the Georgia Sea Island Singers. Jones was born in Smithville, Georgia and grew up nearby in Dawson. She entered the workforce as a housemaid at age 10, became a mother and wife at age 12, and in 1926 left Georgia to work odd jobs in Florida. She eventually settled on St. Simons, in the Sea Islands of Georgia. Between 1933 and 1945, she took on migrant work during the farming season and worked as a maid or cook the rest of the year. During this time, she joined the Spiritual Singers of Coastal Georgia, a group organized by folklorist Lydia Parrish and soon renamed the Georgia Sea Island Singers. The group, which exists today, performs the West African-influenced Sea Islands “shout,” featuring tonal clapping or “patting” and no instruments. After meeting folklore chroniclers Alan Lomax and Zora Neale Hurston, Jones toured and held workshops with the Singers throughout the 1960s and ’70s.
The opening set for this show was performed by Guy Carawan and can be found here. In the first track of Set One on this page Bessie Smith Jones talks about the last song Guy Carawan played for the opener.