Friday, 18 March 2011


Fleeta Mitchell at home at the piano
photo by folklorist Art Rosenbaum

I relay with great sadness news of the death of the Georgia-based religious singer and pianist Sister Fleeta Mitchell. As UGA's John Garst has written, she was 98 years old, so we knew it was coming but we're still the poorer for it. I was lucky enough to have interviewed her twice in the 2000s, at her tiny home outside Athens Georgia, for my book Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes. Her story was absolutely invaluable, since she had attended the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon GA at the same time as Willie McTell. She had been a child, he a young man. Amazing to be able to be told first hand in the 21st Century the details of life for Willie and his fellow-pupils in a segregated school in the early1920s. And so much detail: the names of the cook, the principal and two music teachers; the role Willie played in a school production of Little Red Riding-Hood; the daily timetable; what day was washing day; the saving grace of the spirituals they were introduced to by the music tutors. Brilliant stuff. She had a strong voice and a detailed recall, too, and I was sure she'd reach 100, despite a long, hard early life filled with family tragedy.

And now she's gone. Her funeral was held on Saturday. There's a decent article about her here.

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