From The Vault
March 4, 2020: Flora Molton & Bessie Jones: Blues Gospels and Spirituals
First we listen to a 1976 Interview with Flora Molton, born 1908 in Louisa County Virginia, and died in Washington D.C. May 31, 1990.
Flora Molton was blind and tells stories of her past, sings and plays slide guitar, and explains why she has chosen to be a performer of the street.
The interview is conducted by Natalie Reuss of Sophie’s Parlor Media Collective at WPFW our Pacifica station in Washington D.C.
We will hear some amazing stories but let me introduce you to her by reading a Virginia History marker on highway W 212‑A.
“Flora Molton sang what she called “Spiritual and truth music,” a combination of traditional religious songs and her own compositions. Born here in Louisa County, the daughter of the Reverend and Mrs. William Rollins, she began singing in church. At local parties she heard slide guitar played with a knife, a style adopted to accompany herself. IN 1937, she moved to Washington, D.C., to make her living playing music on the street, and was known and loved by the generations who encountered her there.
She also performed at festivals and clubs, recorded three albums, and was featured in two documentary films.
Additionally, From 1963, she made appearances on the folk circuit, and was later signed by a European record company when she visited Europe in 1987. Her slide guitar playing in Vastopol (open D) was basic but intense, owing much to the blues whose verbal content she fiercely rejected.
Her delivery was generally reminiscent of an unsophisticated Sister Rosetta Tharpe, particularly when Molton was assisted by more skilful musicians.
Here is a rare mix of her playing music and talking about her experiences. Flora Molton, An American Woman making history and culture.
We are proud that this recording, the only known copy of her speaking about her life.
We also feature Bessie Jones.
Mary Elizabeth Bessie Jones born in 1902 was an African American gospel and folk singer credited with helping to bring folk songs, games and stories She learned from her grandfather, a former slave born in Africa to a 20th century audience.
These traditions from the Georgia and South Carolina islands led her to being a founding member of the Georgia Sea Island Singers. Bessie Jones died in 1984.
Her story is as interesting and incredible as our previous performer, Flora Molton. Here we have the privilege of hearing a live concert performed April 9, 1977 at The legendary Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley California, and recorded by the Women’s Recording Group of KPFA at Pacifica s flagship station, KPFA and was produced by Martha Oelman and Joan Medlin