Thursday night February 25, 2016 a capacity crowd of two hundred filled the A.W. Jones Heritage Center to hear presentations about Lydia Parrish and the early Spiritual Singers Society of Georgia and the place of the music of Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers in our nation’s collection at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. Anna Lomax Wood shared her recollections of the weeks in early 1960s when Bessie Jones, John Davis, Peter Davis, Emma Ramsey and Mable Hillery came to her father Alan Lomax’s tiny apartment in New York City to learn how to become a traveling troupe. While young Anna cooked for them and toured them around NYC, they learned the necessary organizational skills that would take the music of Georgia’s sea islands to folk festivals, freedom marches, colleges and schools, The Olympics, and The White House [see attached timeline]. The current leader of the Georgia Sea Island Singers Frankie Quimby told the audience that she “praised God for Lomax” because thanks to him, local African Americans saw the strength of the “old songs” and the traditions were preserved.
The highlight of the evening came when Frankie Quimby, along with three generations of her family who have carried on the traditions of their matriarch Bessie Jones, performed “Shoo Turkey,” and Thomas “Tony” Merrell did “Hambone” which was the inspiration for the event title “Around the World and Back Again.” Family members of original singers John Davis (“best voice I ever heard” wrote Lomax) and Mabel Hillery (a terrific blues singer who made it on her own in NYC) were recognized in the audience. Then resolutions and proclamations were made to Frankie Quimby and other honored guests from the Glynn County Board of Commissioners, Georgia Senator Ligon and Georgia Representative Atwood, The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, and U.S. Congressman Buddy Carter [see attached]. Everyone on stage and in the audience stood together and sang “Freedom Over Me” to complete the night.
Friday morning, the CGHS showed films of vintage performances by the Georgia Sea Island Singers such as the 1960 “Music of Williamsburg” where at Lomax’s request Bessie Jones and the Ga Sea Island Singers dressed as slaves and performed both work and dance songs. Also viewed were films by Bess Lomax Hawes from the 1960s where John Davis and Henry Morrison performed the “Buzzard Lope.” A look back at the Georgia Sea Island Festivals (1993) by Sandy Jones highlighted Douglas Quimby demonstrating songs used with rice pounding and flailing.