* Frankie Quimby traces her cultural influences and family to the same source: "My family came off the river Niger," she says, "from the town of Kianah in the district of Te ourah in the kingdom of Massina, what is now called Nigeria." Quimby, her husband, Douglas, and Bessie Jones, known as the Georgia Sea Island Singers, will perform in a unique concert Friday night at the Washington Ethical Society auditorium.Their music represents one of the strongest connections between traditional African culture and American music.
Under the 79-year-old Jones' leadership, the Sea Island Singers have taken a virtually isolated folk culture to many parts of the world. The offshore sea islands provided a haven for slave traditions mixed with a strong Bahamian influence but very little modernism. Jones, whom one folklorist described as having "the gift for arousing people," has been performing this timeless music for more than five decades.
The haunting, rhythmically compelling music reflects the sea island communities' ongoing interests -- gospel and children's songs, tunes for working and dancing and the relief of parties. Jones and her companions use the most basic instruments -- their own striking voices, tambourines and clappers, which Quimby describes as "two pieces of wood that are the symbol of the sticks slaves used to beat on the floor."
"There are those that want to keep the culture going," says Quimby, who remembers a time when people "looked upon Miss Bessie as being Uncle Tom and clowning for the white people. Now they're trying to find out all they can about their culture."