By BRITTANY TATE The Brunswick News | Posted: Friday, June 3, 2016 12:00 am
Sweetgrass basket weaving demonstrations will be available during the Georgia Sea Island Festival on Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday and Sunday, the quiet grounds of Gascoigne Bluff Park, under the mossy live oaks dotting its grove, will be abuzz with voices of Georgia’s Sea Islands’ yesteryears, weaving together a concert of ring shouts, folk music and contemporary jazz, soul and R&B with the saga of the coastal barrier islands’ cultural experiences and history.
As part of the Georgia Sea Island Festival, set for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday on St. Simons Island, the free two-day event remains a time-honored festival dedicated to celebrating African and African-American history and the heritage, language and culture of the Gullah Geechee people, said festival coordinator Emory Rooks.
“This is a way to celebrate African-Americans and the Gullah Geechee heritage through our food, dancing, entertainment, and arts and crafts,” Rooks said, who is also a member of Friends of Harrington School.
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.
Patty Deveau, President, The Friends of Harrington School
Six years ago on my first visit to the Harrington School on St. Simons Island, Georgia a rooster crowed from a nearby yard as I looked past the crushed corner windows of the historic schoolhouse to the Harrington community. On later trips a cockaded “Woody Woodpecker” taunted us(or laughed at us?) from the woods of the undeveloped community park
as we continued restoration of the old African American schoolhouse and assessed what funds we needed for the next steps. Last Saturday (February 27) the sound of children’s laughter greeted all visitors to the Open House and I smiled and cried a little bit from the sheer joy of bringing children back to the schoolhouse.
Finally, after six years and hundreds of generous small and large donations, children were running circles around the freshly painted schoolhouse. Inside we shared push pin displays and a preview of the programs to be held at the schoolhouse once the interior is completed – historic photos of island African American families; books about Gullah Geechee history; music recorded at the schoolhouse; lists of former students who attended this segregated school; a jar of benne wafers (delicious!) and plenty of stories shared by blacks and whites about growing up on St. Simons Island.
Saturday at the Harrington School was the wrap up event to a three?day tribute to Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers on the occasion of the repatriation to the archives at the Coastal Georgia Historical Society of music recordings, interviews and photographs by renowned folklorist Alan Lomax in the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s. The 1959 recordings were made in the Harrington School.
Saturday was truly a “New Day Coming.” Bright and sunny outside it was a bit chilly inside the schoolhouse – testament to the need for funds to purchase HVAC system – but excitement warmed the guests. Frankie Quimby of the Georgia Sea Island Singers arrived and taught the hildren “Shoo Turkey” until anyone not videotaping this special moment on his or her cell phone fell down laughing as adults and children alike hopped along and tried to shoo the turkey back home. “These children, don’t know about these things,” Frankie declared. “Yes, ma’am” we know but with more special days like this, you and we can teach them.
[Click here to view Frankie and the children.]
TOURS OF ST. SIMONS AFRICAN AMERICAN CEMETERIES
Union Memorial (Strangers)
and African-American neighborhoods
Amy Roberts will guide you through the stories of the persons buried in these historic cemeteries including Bessie Jones who is buried at Strangers Cemetery. Each walking tour begins at 10 a.m. Cost $25 per person. Call 912-634-0330 for reservations and more information on meeting places. Hosted by St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition.
Tributes to the Musical Heritage of Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers
February 25-28, 2016
In October 1959 legendary American folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax recorded Bessie Jones, John Davis, Peter Davis, Emma Ramsay and others at the Harrington School on St. Simons Island. With Lomax’s help, The Georgia Sea Island Singers went on to perform at The White House, freedom marches, folk festivals, the Olympics, and (their favorite) schools across the United States. Thanks to their efforts the musical traditions and stories of coastal Georgia have been shared with the world and saved through the archives for future generations. The following events have been planned on the occasion of the repatriation of the Lomax interviews and recordings from the collections of The Association for Cultural Equity and The Library of Congress to the archives at The Coastal Georgia Historical Society.
“Around the World and Back Again”
Recollections and Tributes for the Georgia Sea Island Singers
Thursday, February 25, 6 p.m. A.W. Jones Heritage Center
Hosted by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society. Special guests include Anna Lomax Wood (Association for Cultural Equity), Todd Harvey (archivist, American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress), and Frankie Quimby (Georgia Sea Island Singers). Free and open to the public. Visit saintsimonslighthouse.org to register.
Symposium to Celebrate Gullah Geechee Traditions of Coastal Georgia
Friday, February 26, Noon-1:30 p.m. Stembler Theater, College of Coastal Georgia
Saving and Sharing Traditional Music of Coastal Georgia: Alan Lomax, Bessie Jones, Frankie Quimby, and the Georgia Sea Island Singers
Panel discussion featuring Anna Lomax Woods (ACE, Association for Cultural Equity), Todd Harvey (Curator, Alan Lomax Collection American Folklife Center, Library of Congress), and Dr, Eric Crawford, College of Coastal Carolina. Special guest: Frankie Quimby, leader of Georgia Sea Island Singers
The Georgia Sea Island Festival, June 4 and 5, 2016
Bessie Jones and Frankie Quimby started the first Georgia Sea Island Festival in 1977. For nearly forty years this annual event has highlighted the music, arts, crafts, and food of Georgia’s sea islands. Hope to see you at Gascoigne Park! www.ssiheritagecoalition.org.