I’m excited for this week’s Homegrown concert from Hubby Jenkins, who will be playing old-time songs and spirituals that are the root of American folk, country, blues, and gospel. The concert premieres at noon on August 11 on our Facebook page, which you can find at this link. After that, the concert will be available permanently at the concert page at this link, where you can also read more about Hubby.
So who is Hubby Jenkins? For now, I’ll just say that he’s an old-time and blues musician living in New York. He’s a singer and multi-instrumentalist who plays guitars, banjos, mandolins, and bones. He has been a member of the Rhiannon Giddens Band, and before that the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. As a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, he played at the Library of Congress back in 2012, and I had the honor of doing a brief onstage interview with the band between sets.
Even before the 2012 concert, Hubby had visited us at the American Folklife Center to do research in our archive, so he’s an old friend of the Center with some deep knowledge of our collections. In the rest of this post, I’ll try to whet your appetites by talking about a few of the songs Hubby plays in the concert, and presenting related field recordings from our collections.
One of the songs Hubby puts his own stamp on in Wednesday’s concert is the ring shout “Moses Don’t Get Lost.” This classic song is mostly known from the repertoire of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, and there are several recordings of that very group doing the song in AFC’s Alan Lomax Collection. “Moses Don’t Get Lost” was usually led by the great singer John Davis, and the Alan Lomax collection contains three online versions of the song led by Davis, available at the following links:
On those three recordings, one of the supporting shouters was the great Bessie Jones, herself one of Lomax’s most important and impressive informants. Jones sang her own slightly different version for Lomax in his New York City apartment on October 6, 1961. Find Bessie Jones’s version at this link.
“Moses Don’t Get Lost” is also in the repertoire of the McIntosh County Shouters, another ring shout group from Georgia. The Shouters performed at the Library of Congress on December 2, 2010. You can find their version of the song, performed in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium, at this YouTube link.
Another song you’ll hear in Hubby’s concert is “I Am the Light of this World,” which was composed by the Reverend Gary Davis, an influential blues and gospel musician from South Carolina who lived in New York from the 1940s until his death in 1972. (Read more about Gary Davis at the Association for Cultural Equity.) We don’t have a recording of Davis singing this song online, but we do have a lot of Davis material in many collections, including some great photos in the John Cohen collection and online recordings in the Alan Lomax collection. For example, Davis played in the same Central Park concert as the Georgia Sea Island Singers in 1965, where Alan Lomax recorded him performing “Samson and Delilah,” “Soldier in the Army of the Lord,” “Sally Where You Get Your Liquor From,” and several more, as well as his commentary on salvation, on guitar playing, and on courtship! Hear all the Gary Davis selections from that concert at this link on the Lomax Archive site.
A third song Hubby will sing with a very direct connection to the American Folklife Center archive is “Finger Ring,” which Hubby learned from a cylinder recorded by Robert Winslow Gordon, the first head of our archive. Gordon collected the song in 1926, two years before the archive was founded, and brought the cylinder with him to become one of the first batch of sound recordings deposited in the archive. It was one of several songs sung for Gordon by a remarkable singer named Mary C. Mann. A respected leader in her community, and a deaconess in the Episcopal Church in Darien, Georgia, Mann ran a school that prepared young black women for work in domestic service. According to her family tradition, Mann was the great-great granddaughter of an enslaved woman from Madagascar, whose English name was Amelia.Family folklore said that Amelia was captured by the British in the War of 1812 and removed to the Bahamas, never to return to Georgia. But before this, she had children and grandchildren in Georgia from whom Mann was descended.
“Finger Ring” is a work song usually performed by crews of six to eight people while rowing a cypress dugout. Such “boat songs” were a well-known feature of coastal Georgia culture. Hear Mary C. Mann sing “Finger Ring” in the player below.
After the song, you can hear Mann say, “That was Miss Roberta Paul’s boat song, “Finger Ring,” I have sung just now. She likes that! Sung by Mary C. Mann, Darien, Georgia, Macintosh county, April the twelfth, Nineteen twenty-six.” Mann was referring to the fact that “Finger Ring” was a favorite song of Robert Winslow Gordon’s wife, the former Miss Roberta Paul, whom Mann had known since childhood.
“Finger Ring” was not the only song Mann sang for Gordon’s cylinder machine that day. She also sang the spiritual “Ol’ Man Satan/Drive Ol’ Satan Away,” which has a unique history. Prior to her capture by the British, Mann’s ancestor Amelia taught this song to her granddaughter Violet; Violet in turn taught it to HER granddaughter, Mary C. Mann. Since this provenance placed the song among African Americans in the Sea Islands prior to the War of 1812, Gordon considered it “the earliest text of a Negro spiritual that has ever been published.” Hear Mann’s remarkable recording of this song in the player below.
But that’s not all! Hubby also drew on one other field recording from the AFC archive, from Mississippi Fred McDowell.
According to his Mississippi Blues Trail marker:
Fred McDowell, a seminal figure in Mississippi hill country blues, was one of the most vibrant performers of the 1960s blues revival. McDowell (c. 1906-1972) was a sharecropper and local entertainer in 1959 when he made his first recordings at his home on a farm north of Como for noted folklorist Alan Lomax. The depth and originality of McDowell’s music brought him such worldwide acclaim that he was able to record and tour prolifically during his final years.
These, of course, are just the most direct examples of the “collection connections” we could make between Hubby’s concert and our archive. I hope they’ve intrigued you, and especially hope you’ll tune into the concert, which premieres at noon, U.S. Eastern Time, on August 11, 2021. It will premiere on our facebook page, which you can find at this link. Once the premiere is ended, It will be permanently available at its own concert page, at this link. Please do come back and enjoy the concert!
[Note: The paragraph on Mississippi Fred McDowell above was added in February 2022.]