Bessie Jones

In my internet travels, I came across some more information about Bessie Jones that’s worth sharing. We’ll be doing Way Down Yonder in the Brickyard again this week.

Here is an article about Ms. Jones’ life and work. This paragraph very succinctly sums up the place and value of the type of game we are playing in class:

The games, mostly from the British Isles, had been widespread among Southern black and white populations as a way to circumvent religious prohibitions against physical movement and dancing. As adapted by African-Americans they served as an important vehicle to transmit traditional African-derived dance movement and rhythmic styles that promoted group cohesion, nurtured individual virtuosity, and, as Bessie realized, helped make the players physically and mentally stronger. The songs, games, and stories of the past were a “spiritual survival kit,” in Bessie’s case, connecting her with the beloved figures of the past. To keep their memory alive she sought out young people to teach them to.

Ms. Jones befriended Pete Seeger, the folksinger and political activist, in the early 60’s. Mr. Seeger invited Ms. Jones and the group of school children she had taught her songs to to appear on his television show Rainbow Quest in 1965. In the linked episode, Ms. Jones demonstrates a number of songs from the African-American spiritual tradition, as well as some wonderful games with children. The whole episode is worth watching, but Ms. Jones contribution begins at 13:10, and the games begin at 25:50.

Note the duration of the children’s games. In music class, we usually limit songs and activities to just a few minutes. In these activities, it is noted, that the games go on as long as there is someone to dance. A wonderful counter to our busy, scheduled lives.