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

This exhibit highlights the contributions Bessie Jones, Big Mama Thornton, and Ethel Waters have made to American music and performance. In addition, the following pages address the challenges these women faced as African American women living through the Jim Crow era.

Major moments in the lives and careers of Jones, Thornton, and Waters are highlighted through this online exhibition. The materials featured include excerpts of interviews conducted by Willie Ruff, Anthony Connor, and Richard Neff that are held at Yale’s Oral History of American Music (OHAM), which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Background on OHAM

Musicologist and former director Vivian Perlis (1928 – 2019) founded OHAM in 1969. OHAM has become an ongoing oral history project and archive housed at Yale's Irving S. Gilmore Music Library. OHAM’s holdings include audio and video recordings as well as transcripts of in-depth interviews with composers and musicians across various musical genres, including classical, jazz, and blues. OHAM also holds interviews with music producers, executives, critics, and theorists.

Currently, Libby Van Cleve serves as OHAM’s Director and Anne Rhodes serves as OHAM’s Research Archivist.
Click on any image to see a larger version of the image and the metadata. Click on triangle to play audio clips. Click on video to play embedded YouTube videos.
Daniella Posy, Curator. Special thanks to Libby Van Cleve, Anne Rhodes, and Richard Boursy.