Flora Molton and Bessie Jone – Blues, Spirituals and Gospels

This week on From the Vault, we feature two relatively unknown but important female musicians, Flora Molton (1908-1990) and Bessie Jones (1902-1984).

First we’ll listen to a 1976 interview with Flora Molton, a blind blues street-singer from Washington, D.C, who tells stories of her past, sings and plays slide guitar, and explains why she has chosen to be a performer of the street. Molton, who ultimately recorded three albums, sang what she called “spiritual and truth music,” a combination of traditional religious songs and her own compositions; she often punctuated her style by playing the slide guitar with a knife. The only known recording of Molton speaking about her life, this interview was conducted by Natalie Reuss of Sophie’s Parlor Media Collective at Pacifica radio station WPFW.

Then we settle in with Bessie Jones, an African American gospel and folk singer credited bringing folk songs, games, and stories learned from her grandfather, a former slave born in Africa, to a 20th century American audience. A founding member of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, Jones delivers an amazing live show on April 9, 1977 at the legendary Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, California. The performance was recorded and produced by Martha Oelman and Joan Medlin of the Women’s Recording Group at Pacifica Radio’s flagship station KPFA.

These programs are being heard for the first time in decades thanks to our preservation and access grant project “American Women Making History and Culture: 1963-1982,” funded in part by the National Historic Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives and Records Administration.

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