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I believe, I believe, President he's all right - President's Blues, Jack Kelly and His South Memphis Jug Band

Author Topic: Mable Hillery  (Read 6812 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Mable Hillery
« on: April 20, 2007, 12:19:08 PM »
The discussion elswhere of unaccompanied blues singing prompted me to find the Mabel Hillery LP cited there. The sleeve note consists of a portion of her lengthy 1967 rememberance of times past and thought it might find marginal interest here. She was born 22 July 1929 and died 26 April 1976. Being a "well thumbed" sleeve it was somewhat of a trial to OCR successfully but think I've caught all the misreads:

'My parents was share croppers.
I was born in a little town called La Grange in South Georgia, and when I was six months old, they took me to Kieta County, 60 miles below Atlanta, Georgia.
It was Otto Hutchison owned the place where I grew up. He had about 7 or 8 thousand acres of land, and probably more than 500 people working for him and living on his plantation. They worked cotton and corn, and wheat and oats and peaches. There was one store, and it belonged to the man that owned the plantation. He was the grocery man, the clothes man, the shoe man, and everything. When you made them pennies, if you carry anything besides the receipt where you had went to the store and took up grocery all that week, you spent it right back in that same store. The money never did leave the man's hand. It continued to turn right back. I have relatives there now who is making 18 dollars a week which they never sees on Friday. They probably get about thirteen cent in the pay envelope. I used to tote water, before I got big enough to pick and thin out, and they used to pay me about 5 cent a day. I never did see it. My grandmother collected it.
Whenever I did get a nickel, I didn't keep a plain old nickel. I had it changed to five pennies, because that was more money. By the time I was 8 I was putting in a full day's work. I've plowed and planted, and fertilized, and thinned, and harvested, and helped put it in the barns.
My uncle got an idea if he'd leave the country and go to Atlanta he'd fare better. He was in Atlanta maybe something like two weeks, and my grandmother got this letter from him. He was in jail. So she went around and sold chickens and eggs and butter until she got enough money till she got him out of jail. After he come back home, I went to take him water in the field one day, and he was singing:
'Ain't it hard to be a nigger in Atlanta?
The police ride from door to door
They pick up the niggers and let the white man go.
That's why it's hard to be a nigger anywhere in Georgia'.
I heard a lot of songs sung across the fields. People was working and singing. I liked these songs, and in my mind they began to do something to me.
I wasn't old enough to realise the peoples was singing to relieve their anger, or on account of being frustrated, and sometimes from being happy. Singing a song would mean the world to them, because that was the only way they could talk back to the man was in the song. They would sing to the mule or to themselves, and they would beat the man by singing a song. I used to see my grandmother singing and crying.
I asked her why she was crying. She said: 'If you live in this world, you got to give up your rights to get along, and you got to cry sometime to get along. There's so many things you got to do to get along. You got to sing to get along, and moan to get along in this world.'
The people were preached and told so many times by the white man that
'God put you here to serve us,
And that's the only reason why you're here.
And, if you'll be kind, good and submissive to me and obey
me, when you die, you will be rewarded.
I'll see to that.'
And they believed it. The only wise men there was the white man and the minister. The open-eye man was the white man, the minister had his eye half open. It would always come back to my grandmother that the white man was evil, and he would be the one to go to hell. She used to sit down and tell me about the different things that happened in her family. Her father was almost as white as any man you ever want to see.
She told me: 'You don't hate the kids that you play with, because they is not responsible for you being in the position that you is in. The thing for you to do is to make peace, and see that the ones coming under you don't get caught in the trap that you got caught in.'
And the trap she got caught in.
I always figured that if you wanted to, and if you fought hard enough, there was a way out. But somewhere down the line, I think my grandparents kindly give up, and said: 'Well, I'm just gona make the best of what life I have here. I'm just gona take it and go on, because there is no hope.' Things was rough for us, but they was much tougher with my grandmother.
My grandparents didn't sing the blues, they knew them, And I think they sung them when they was young. But they always told me that the blues was the devil's songs, and that they were bad songs, and that if you sung the blues you would die and go to hell, and there would burn for ever and ever.
It was a funny thing. When I was a kid growing up, there was all kinds of religious records in my home there. And they had one of these big wind up things they call a 'Victora', made by RCA with one of the big dogs sitting on the side of it. Well, you  could play any record in there except the blues. They would always take them and hid them when the older ones got through hearing them.
But our house was high off the ground. So we would go underneath the house. There was a knot in the floor board. We took a stick and pushed it up, and we'd listen to the record playing, and to them dancing.
And whenever my grandmama would leave the house, we would play the record of Arthur Big Boy Crudup singing 'Big Legged Woman', and everything else we could find, and boy we'd have a party in that house dancing. But one of us always stood on the porch and looked down the road to see if anyone was coming. Because you would really get lashed if you played those records.
They used to take us along to the Saturday night fish fry. Everybody would bring a quilt for a pallet. They'd put all the kids into one room to sleep, and they'd go into another room. Maybe there was an old guy with a guitar, and somebody with a harmonica. They'd start drinking moonshine, and playing the guitar, and dancing all night long. We'd crack the door open, and we'd look at them doing the shoe-shine, the black bottom, the snake hip, the hen peck, the shimmy and everything right down. Maybe one of them would come through the room and see you with door open. It didn't have to be your parents. Anybody would whip you then. They'd tell you, 'Lay down and go to sleep.' But you wouldn't always go to sleep. You'd lay down and say to yourself: 'One day when I get big, I'm gonna buy me a guitar and sing any kind of songs I want to sing, and I'm gonna dance any kind of a dance I want to dance.' They'd stay there until sun-up Sunday morning, and then they'd leave and go to church. The same man that got up there in the pulpit Sunday morning and preached the gospel to you, you saw him Saturday night at the same place you was at. There was always a minister preaching and saying 'Hallelujah', and there was always peoples on the outside that still didn't believe in what he was doing. He was always telling them: 'Aww, come on to church, and we can sing, and praise the Lord, and you can see what a feeling you get.'
And they said, 'Well, we can get just as good a feeling by singing, and we don't have to go to church to get this feeling.' So, they used various verses of the song he was singing inside the church, and they made blues songs out of them. They sped the tempo up there a little bit, and they had it. That's why they was called the devil's songs, because the people on the inside was singing them and praising the Lord, and the ones on the outside were singing them and praising for the devil. And there was people like myself that had two kind of feelings for the songs. You got so much out of the songs you heard in church, and then you got a different feeling when you got on the outside and heard these songs. And those religious songs did a lot for me when I really didn't know.
The blues were special to me, and even now the blues put me in mind of some of the things I've went through and the way I've lived. I've lived some years a happy life, and some years sort of a sad life. And that's the way it is with the blues. I wake up sometimes at three o'clock in the morning feeling down in the dumps, and I can get up and sit on the side of my bed, and just kind of hum a few verses to myself and I feel better. And I find I can lay down and go to bed and don't spend another restless minute.
So I don't know if they are the devil's songs or not, but in my mind they are not. I continue to sing them, because I don't think no song is bad. And I continue to dance. It is part of me, and I have never forgot it. Kids now is sometimes ashamed of thing connected with the past, because they want to get away from the past. It was wrong for such a thing as slavery to be, but it's nothing nobody can or should forget. I think if I should try and forget the songs that I sung, and the dances that I learned as a child coming up, I wouldn't know who I was, and I wouldn't know which way I was going, and I don't want that to happen to me. The people in the South have always brought their old music up to the North and polished it up too much in order to get anywhere and to be able to sing, and to be able to record it on a record. You gotta fix it, and do it the way they want you to do it, take some of your verses and add some of their verses in it. Before I started singing I was working as a short-order cook, and then I was selling ice-cream on St. Simon's Island, Georgia. Alan Lomax came down there to make a film on the island for CBS. The people come thinking they were going to a modern kind of rock and roll film session. When they got there, they found he wanted traditional music. They were singing some of the songs I hadn't heard for years in public, and me singing them to myself. So I sung along too.'
[I have excerpted the preceding notes from a tape interview I made with Mable in Philadelphia in the summer of 1967. Hedy West, London 1968]


Offline Johnm

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2007, 10:22:45 AM »
Thanks, Bunker Hill, for posting this piece.  It is fascinating to read, and the last paragraph, in particular, seems so sage and insightful that it is humbling.  I'm always impressed when people whose life experiences entitle them to a great deal of anger manage somehow to get past the anger to understanding or acceptance of what life has given them.  There are many playwrights who would give anything to have written what Mable Hillery expressed so simply.
all best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: April 22, 2007, 07:16:35 PM by Johnm »

Offline Richard

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2007, 10:58:30 AM »
Thanks BH, amazing  got any more like that?

Seems we don't know we are born sometimes.
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2007, 11:31:44 AM »
Hedy West wrote a touching obituary in Sing Out quoting other passages from the interview. West died in July 2005 (67) so we'll probably never get to read the entirity of what Hillery told her.

I've yet to come across anybody who actually saw West and Hillary perform during their 1968 tour of the UK. I guess it was covered by the folk music page(s) of the Melody Maker but my reading of that weekly never went beyond Max Jones's blues one.  ;D

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2007, 11:42:50 AM »
In 1996 or 97 there was a Rhino video of a 1966 Toronto Blues festival originally filmed by CBS in which she sang How Long accompanied by Otis Spann. But I think it was said that Rhino had edited that particular performance. From memory other participants were, Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, Jesse Fuller, Muddy Waters, Terry & McGhee.
« Last Edit: April 22, 2007, 11:43:58 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Teresa

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #5 on: August 04, 2010, 08:02:42 PM »
I personally knew Mable Hillery she was my cousin, her mother & my mother were sisters. The family reunion was in July in Georgia where we honored her, he son was there at the reunion. looking for more of Mable writing

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2010, 12:01:46 AM »
I personally knew Mable Hillery she was my cousin, her mother & my mother were sisters. The family reunion was in July in Georgia where we honored her, he son was there at the reunion. looking for more of Mable writing
Nice of you to drop by. I don't know where else she may have been published but if it is of any help I could post here Mable's short entry as it appears in Robert Ford's 2007 'A Blues Bibliography'. From memory it is quite short, concentrating on items written about her together with obitituary citations. I'm sure Robert won't object to my doing this.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #7 on: April 27, 2011, 12:17:19 AM »
Thought I'd bump this in light of a new Stefan discography

http://www.wirz.de/music/hillefrm.htm

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #8 on: April 27, 2011, 01:42:36 AM »
Thought I'd bump this in light of a new Stefan discography
http://www.wirz.de/music/hillefrm.htm

Thanks Bunker !

Anyone ever heard or seen that (1966?) Eva-tone flexidisc with Mable Hillery singing "How Long" accompanied by Skip James on guitar ?!?

« Last Edit: April 27, 2011, 01:44:07 AM by Stefan Wirz »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #9 on: April 27, 2011, 02:12:57 AM »
From memory it came with an American folk music type publication. It wasn't Sing Out. Something is nagging waway at me that it was from a festival performance. Now who was it I knew who owned it? Ah there lies the rub....

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #10 on: April 27, 2011, 04:40:38 AM »
You-all might be interested in this mp3 of a tape recording from 1964 of Mabel and Mississippi John Hurt singing "Salty Dog" at a concert in Minneapolis.

Lyle

http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/BrnSnift/SonicAlbum.html .

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #11 on: April 27, 2011, 05:00:28 AM »
You-all might be interested in this mp3 of a tape recording from 1964 of Mabel and Mississippi John Hurt singing "Salty Dog" at a concert in Minneapolis.
Lyle
http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/BrnSnift/SonicAlbum.html .

... just found your MP3 this morning and added it to my discography (even though it ain't no "disc" ;-)
Thanks a lot for sharing !!!!

Offline harry

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #12 on: April 27, 2011, 06:10:44 AM »
In 1996 or 97 there was a Rhino video of a 1966 Toronto Blues festival originally filmed by CBS in which she sang How Long accompanied by Otis Spann. But I think it was said that Rhino had edited that particular performance. From memory other participants were, Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, Jesse Fuller, Muddy Waters, Terry & McGhee.


Offline jaycee

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2011, 09:12:46 AM »
thanks for posting, the mable hillery article, bunker hill. it really was an engrossing read.
jaycee

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2011, 09:56:11 AM »
thanks for posting, the mable hillery article, bunker hill. it really was an engrossing read.
It has been on Weenie for four years now, I may attempt to Jpeg the back sleeve and send it to Stefan to display in his discography.

Offline eagle rockin daddy

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #15 on: April 28, 2011, 12:49:16 PM »
I missed this first time around also. thanks BH!! what a great interview.

Mike

Offline lee

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #16 on: October 10, 2012, 01:15:46 AM »
"It's So Hard to be a Nigger"
Searching for people who have sung this song led me to this site.  The only results I seem to come up with are Mable Hillery, and in a medley by P J Proby.  I found this song on one of my parents albums when I was twelve, (a LONG time ago), but I can never remember the singers, although it was sung by a man/men. I pictured an album which after some googling turned out to be The Chambers Brothers - Groovin' Time, but that song is not on the track list. So I'm thinking I discovered that song and the Chambers Brothers album at the same time, & that's why I've linked them together.  (I am awaiting delivery of that album, because I loved it, also wondering if the song or some of the lyrics may be on there, under another name.) If anyone can help, or point me in the right direction of where to search if this is not the right place, I would greatly appreciate it, I can't get that song out of my head & it's driving me crazy that I can't remember who it was!
Thank you,
Lee
« Last Edit: October 10, 2012, 01:21:38 AM by lee »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #17 on: October 10, 2012, 10:39:56 AM »
I'm wondering if you are thinking of Blind Willie McTell in interview with Lomax who asks if McTell knows of any complaining songs and  McTell suggests the first line of this to Lomax. I think McTell then sings something totally different.

Sorry not at home to check and may be well off the mark with what's required.

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #18 on: October 10, 2012, 12:23:35 PM »
As I recall, it's Lomax who suggests the first line to McTell, who is obviously uncomfortable with the whole line of questioning, and says that he doesn't know any complaining songs. Lomax asks McTell why he appears nervous, and McTell answers that he's not been feeling well lately. I consider McTell's avoidance of a racial minefield to be an excellent example of how African-Americans had to be always alert when in the company of whites.

Lyle

Offline oddenda

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #19 on: October 10, 2012, 04:38:11 PM »
Probably something that John A. Lomax collected earlier in his career in TX. McTell was a professional musician and certainly would have been wary of such a request from a stranger from the South (JAL was a Texan).

pbl

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Mable Hillery
« Reply #20 on: October 10, 2012, 05:36:44 PM »
Howard W. Odum collected the song and included it in his Folk Song and Folk Poetry article in 1911. Can't think of a recording off the top of my head but surely it would have to be a field recording? 

 


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