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February 24, 2009

Georgia Sea Island Singers


This isn't actually a new post, since I uploaded these 2 albums back in may. But on account of the recent slew of religious vocal music, I thought I'd expand the previous posting. For lack of time, I won't spout any of my own pontifications; quotations to follow:

Over 250 years ago, plantation owners began importing slaves from West Africa to the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. The slaves endured extreme hardship and injustice on the rice plantations where they were forced to labor. Isolated from the mainland on the humid, mosquito-ridden islands, however, the slaves were able to freely preserve their ethnic traditions. The blend of language and culture that survived and evolved is known as Gullah.

The history of the group goes all the way back to the early 1900s when Lydia Parrish, wife of Maxfield Parrish, began her own “folklife studies” on St. Simons Island, where she lived. She would pay men and women who lived on the island to share their songs and memories, which she documented. Around 1920, Parrish sponsored the formation of the Spiritual Singers of Georgia, who performed for guests at the Cloister Hotel. Bessie Jones, a young woman from Dawson, Georgia, who had moved to St. Simons Island with her husband, joined the choral group in 1933.

In 1942, Parrish published The Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands, a collection that, although it was compiled by an amateur, nonetheless remains an invaluable source of history. The other significant documentation of the group came from famed folklorist Alan Lomax. He originally visited the island in 1935, accompanied by author and fellow folklorist, Zora Neale Hurston. They met Parrish and Jones and experienced the Spiritual singers. Lomax returned in 1959 and 1960 to conduct extensive recordings of this group.

Bessie Jones shared with Lomax her desire to take this heritage to the people, to “teach the chillun”, as she told him. The two worked together to solicit bookings and it was agreed the group would now be called the Georgia Sea Island Singers. The members at that time, song leader Jones, community leader Big John Davis, Peter Davis, Henry Morrison, Emma Ramsey and Mable Hillary, toured together for almost a decade.

Bessie Jones (1902 - 1984), gospel singer from the Georgia Sea Islands. She learned her songs from her grandfather, a former slave born in Africa. She was a founding member of the Georgia Sea Island Singers. Alan Lomax first encountered Bessie Jones on a southern trip in 1959. Jones made her way up to New York City two years later and asked Lomax to record both her music and biography.

Jones told an interviewer in Alachua, Florida in the early 1980's, that she was born in Lacrosse, Florida, (Alachua County), when that area was a tung oil production area. Jones also said she hadn't been to a doctor since 1925 and that she wore many copper bracelets which protected her from disease.




Alan Lomax Collection:
Southern Journey, V. 12: Georgia Sea Islands - Biblical Songs and Spirituals
Released 01/01/1998

In this reissue of the first published recordings of a rare body of African-American folk music, the fabled Georgia Sea Island singers perform in the African style of their forefathers who lived as independent fishermen and farmers on the offshore islands of the Georgia coast, little touched by European culture. The Southern Journey Series is a voyage of the road and the mind, pioneering the use of stereo recording in the field, Alan Lomax's Southern Journey is a 13-volume series of original recordings evoking the musical world of the rural South and an era before radio, movies and television. The Alan Lomax Collection gathers together the American, European and Caribbean field recordings , world music compilations, and ballad operas of writer, folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax. Remastered to 20-bit digital from the original field recordings. Contains six previously unreleased recordings.

Review by Richie Unterberger:
Because of their isolation, the folk and gospel music of the African-American communities of the Georgia Sea Islands showed stronger ties to African forms, and sometimes had a lilt more associated with the Bahamas and Caribbean. Alan Lomax recorded the 18 biblical songs and spirituals on this recording in 1959 and 1960, and although much has sometimes been made of the distinct quality of Sea Islands music, much of this just sounds like good-quality old-time African-American gospel. When the backing is highly rhythmic and a fife is prominent, it does sound more idiosyncratic. Five of the tracks were previously unreleased, and one, the lengthy "It Just Suits Me," is a real highlight, with guitar accompaniment by Virginia musician Hobart Smith and lengthy back-and-forth passages between lead vocalists and a chorus.

Tracks:
1 Moses
2 Moses, Don't Get Lost
3 Turkle Dove
4 Adam in the Garden
5 Daniel
6 Daniel in the Lion's Den
7 Little David
8 Eli, You Can't Stand
9 John
10 Sign of Judgment
11 One of These Days
12 O Day
13 Rock in the Weary Land
14 It Just Suits Me
15 I'm Gonna Lay Down My Life For My Lord
16 Before this Time Another Year
17 O Death
18 Goodbye, Everybody

droop that wing. [link updated Oct 2010]
mp3 256kbps | w/ cover | 103mb

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Alan Lomax Collection:
Southern Journey, V. 13: Earliest Times -- Georgia Sea Island Songs for Everyday Living
Released 01/01/1998

In this reissue of the first published recordings of a unique body of African-American folk music, the Georgia Sea Island Singers perform in the African style of their forefathers, who lived as independent fisherman and farmers on the offshore islands of the Georgia coast, little touched by European culture. The Southern Journey Series is a voyage of the road and the mind, pioneering the use of stereo recording in the field, Alan Lomax's Southern Journey is a 13-volume series of original recordings evoking the musical world of the rural South and an era before radio, movies and television. The Alan Lomax Collection gathers together the American, European and Caribbean field recordings, world music compilations, and ballad operas of writer, folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax. Remastered to 20-bit digital from the original field recordings. Contains five previously unreleased recordings.

Review by Richie Unterberger:
Subtitled "Georgia Sea Islands Songs for Everyday Living," this is a collection of 21 performances recorded by Alan Lomax in 1959 and 1960. Often structured in a call-and-response fashion, and arranged a cappella or only with minimal percussion and instrumentation, these are considered as some of the American recordings which are closest to the African roots of African-American music. About a dozen performers are heard on the record, arranged into three different combinations of groups, with different soloists spotlighted all the time. Academic significance aside, it's reasonably strong and stirring music with a spiritual current, even though many of the songs are not religious in content; one, in fact, is an original (by Henry Morrison) about the stinginess of white plantation owners.

Tracks:
1 Live Humble
2 The Buzzard Lope
3 Ain't I Right?
4 Row the Boat, Child
5 You Got My Letter
6 Riley
7 See Aunt Dinah
8 Pay Me
9 Carrie Belle
10 Reg'lar, Reg'lar Rollin' Under
11 You Better Mind
12 Everybody Talking About Heaven
13 Read 'Em, John
14 Union
15 Hop Along, Let's Get Her
16 Raggy Levee
17 Hard Time in Ol' Virginia
18 Knee Bone
19 The Old Tar River
20 East Coast Line
21 Buzzard Lope

read em, john.
mp3 128kbps | w/ cover | 48mb

and don't miss the posts at Times Ain't Like they Used to Be and Tonal Bride.

Also, you can download a live track by the GSIS and other religious roots music from the Florida area on the album Shall We Gather at the River at the Florida State Arhive. (or contact them for a free cd!)

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Really great stuff.

By the way have you got Riddle Lesley?

céline said...

incredible!! We both posted the same music on the same day... I'm pretty sure that the tracks on my vinyl lp are the same as on the Southern Journey cds. I'll have to check...

gadaya said...

Oups... I was registered on my wife's account. The previous comment comes from me, Gadaya...

MUERTE said...

This has got to be the best blog on the web. I praise you.

Anonymous said...

These were great. The best thing I've seen posted anywhere in quite a while. Thanks for sharign.