The Struggles and Triumphs of Bessie Jones, Big Mama Thornton, and Ethel Waters

Transcripts - Bessie Jones – Part 2

Transcripts for Clips Embedded at Bessie Jones - Part 2: 1950s to 1970s

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These are transcripts for the audio clips of Willie Ruff interviewing Bessie Jones. Ruff is represented by R. and Jones is represented by J.


Note:  Some of the sentences in the transcripts below are not full sentences due to Jones changing her thoughts and words mid-sentence. As a result, dashes are used to indicate changes—like this—to break up a sentence that might otherwise not make sense.

Dashes are also used when a person speaks and then continues a thought after interruption. This is indicated with two dashes and lower case letter.


Clip 1: Willie Ruff speaking to Jones about his goals for the Ellington Fellowship. Jones expresses that the event was a part of God's Plan (1972).

R.   My plan in bringing this Ellington Fellowship here is to bring you and Eubie Blake and all of the older ones—

J.   Uh huh. That’s right.

R.   –so they can—that for the first time again link hands with the young children and show them that they come from something.

J.   That’s right.

R.   –‘cause it’s not written in the books. I don’t care how long they go to school and how many libraries and how many courses they take and how many books they—they will not see that.

J.   No.

R.   No way possible—

J.   No way possible.

R.   --for them to see that unless they lay their eyes on it—

J.   That’s the truth.

R.   --and see that amount of spirit up and that amount of love—

J.   That’s true.

R.   --up there in front of them for the first time and it did something for ‘em. It did something for ‘em.

J.   And then, whom—the medal. Someone was talking ‘bout the medal before I come home. Said, “What you going to do with it?” I said, “I don’t know. I ain’t never had that and I’m goin’ to see.” Alright, it’s fun.

R.  Well, it’s gold.

J.   Yeah, huh?

R.   It’s gold

J.   Yeah.

R.   It’s gold

J.   So, I came—I said, “Now, this wouldn’t have happened if it had not been for you” on this end now I’m talking ‘bout. But, if you look back and think, it was in the plan.

R.   That’s right. That’s right. It was in the plan.

J.   God had—

R.   That’s right.

J.   –it wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for him. You see it was in the plan. He working—

R.   I take no credit at all.

J.   Yeah, you get all the credit.

R.   I take no credit.

J.   I mean under him, but the whole top thing come—I mean with every one of us. Every last one of us. It was there. That was to be that way. God gon’ work his soul. “I’m gon’ fix his soul.” You know Dizzy [Gillespie] and Willie, you know them, Aman Stepman. They gon’ do this. But, it’s already—it’s hard to fix stuff here on the top, but you’ll never get it worked on the bottom unless you get someone to do it for you. You see, see what I’m talkin’ ‘bout, especially with the Lady, with Duke [Ellington], and with everybody else. Somebody got to— “Let’s have it here in New Haven.” See what I mean? And, New Haven agreed for it. It got to be worked that way. Everyone stayed somewhere else.

R.   Yeah, that’s right. Everybody else stayed somewhere else.

J.   That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. They stayed somewhere else.

R.   All of them had to come right here.

J.   Had to come right there.

R.   All from different places.

J.   You got to do it. That’s the only thing. That’s great. There’s something that you said—

R.   Like a family, like a big family getting—having a reunion again to come together—

J.    The ol’ day, the ol’ day.

R.   –just like it was in the slavery time when they all came back from—came together from different plantations to visit.

J.   That’s right.

R.    I felt like—

J.   I tell ya that was one of the greatest that ever will come out, people inviting to come up talking ‘bout that.


Clip 2:  Willie Ruff and Bessie Jones speaking about their experience at the Ellington Fellowship event. Jones expresses how glad she was to be there (1972).

R.   You talking ‘bout that one accord. I experienced that strong the other night up on that stage when we had all of them people up there being honored.

J.   Yeah.

R.   All of them sitting up there together with Dizzy [Gillepsie] and Duke [Ellington]—


J.   Well, that’s something—

R.   --and Bill Warfield and that that gal came down there, the last to sing, that Odetta. Now, that’s—I call that one accord ‘cause that was strong spirit on that stage that night.

J.   Oh, it was strong.

R.   That was some strong [emphasis added] spirit on stage.

J.   I was thinking on that. I was looking at that. I was glad to be there. I was telling the lady where I sitting inside of her. I said, “I’m so glad to be here.” She said, “What do you think about it?” “I think well of it.” I says, “So many things I think of I can’t explain it all.” I couldn’t. I haven’t got tongue to explain it.

But letting you know this, I been to many places like in different parts of the country, Canada, and other places. Seen where most was white people that had big turnouts like that and how well and how good that they turn out in places I’ve been. I ain’t been but a few places seen ‘em didn’t turn out right. And, all what they wanted to eat and what they wanted wear and what they wanted to drink, everything—you couldn’t tell the difference and everybody was everybody. And, I was looking at that and last—this past—this program here—was the same way.

R.   Friday night—Saturday night.

J.   Right here, right here. I’m talking down, down, down you know. And then, folks were there from all parts of the country.

R.   That’s right. Parts of the world. From overseas.

J.   An honest look. I said, “This is what we should be.”

R.   That’s right.

J.   “This is what it should be everywhere. Whenever you get together, just be people.” That’s why I just love that. That’s the greatest thing—and old and young. As Jesus said, “The old and the young will dance together.”