James Garfield Smalls, August 2009


James Garfield Smalls, August 2009


Crawford, Eric (Interviewer)





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Interview by Eric Crawford with James Garfield Smalls on August 12, 2009. Smalls begins by talking about the composition of a singing group without instruments historically. He emphasized the importance of knowing the music from both learning and tradition. He discusses the various groups on St. Helena Island and Penn School. He feels that the spirituals are good to sing for the younger people, but only as long as they respect the music as it has been developed over time. Smalls also discusses the patterns of historic seeking, a ritual where a young person comes into the spiritual membership of the church. He sings "Don't Turn Back," a song that was sung during seeking. He describes the Penn School chapel services and how the room was laid out, and how important the chapel services were. He remembers the progression of bridges between Saint Helena Island and Beaufort. He sings "I Heard the Angel Singing," while remarking that some of the songs have been forgotten because people don't remember how they were sung anymore. He then sings "Fisherman Peter," often regarded as one of Smalls' songs on the island. He states the role that songs played during slavery, like books or a way of trading knowledge. After a break in the recording, Smalls continues talking through the role of education, sometimes being self-effacing, calling himself an uneducated man, which is ironic as one of the most knowledgeable musicians and teachers on the island, and perhaps the region. Crawford remarks in the interview, "No one else knows these songs." Crawford offers song titles, and Smalls affirms that he knows these songs, sometimes offering a few bars. Crawford alludes to the respect that Pastor Doe has for Smalls. Smalls contends that any song can become a shouting song if you sing it right. He also remembers the particular songs that were sung during a house blessing, and remembers the particular people that were at the 1941 house blessing recorded by Siceloff. The recording cuts off in the middle of a conversation.


Spirituals (Songs)--Sea Islands;Hymns--South Carolina--Saint Helena Island;Sacred vocal music--Sea Islands;Gullahs--South Carolina--Saint Helena Island--Religion;Sea Islands--Religious life and customs;Saint Helena Island (S.C.)--Religious life and customs;African American oral tradition;Penn Center of the Sea Islands;Penn School (Saint Helena Island, S.C.);Smalls, James Garfield, 1920-2020;Saint Helena Island (S.C.)


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James Garfield Smalls, August 2009