Emmaus Baptist Church North, Virginia
1938 Roscoe E. LewisVirginia Writers Project Recordings
Courtesy of theLibrary of CongressFolklife Center
A few years ago I was approached by Mathews County Citizen Art Miller about helping to find some missing music from the 1930’s. It all started with an article in the Gloucester Mathews Gazette Journal referencing a 1938 article about the Virginia Writers Project under the Works Progress Administration coming to Mathews County and conducting interviews with former slaves and music that was recorded at Emmaus Baptist Church in North. What I found was amazing.
How it started:
The Gloucester-Mathews Gazette Journal January 2, 2013
…And in Mathews, Eudora Ramsey Richardson of the Federal Writers Project program recorded 100 voices at Emmaus Baptist Church at North which, the Gazette-Journal reported, were "singing the old spirituals, many of which originated in Mathews County. Among the leaders were Laura Lee, Josephine Ware, Mary Ellen Billups and Joseph Lee." Some citizens are now in search of this recording in national archives. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, 75 years after the fact, the voices of these local ancestors could be found and could ring out again to a Mathews audience? We have hopes of hearing them.
The Gloucester-Mathews Gazette JournalNovember 17, 1938
Mrs. T. B. (Harriet B.) Miller Sr., local supervisor of the Federal Writers Project, under the direction of Mrs. Eudora Ramsey Richardson of Richmond, recently staged a Negro spiritual concert which was recorded by Roscoe Lewis of Hampton Institute. The concert was held at the Negro Church, near North, and approximately 100 Negroes joined in singing the old spirituals, many of which originated in Mathews County. Among the leaders were Laura Lee, Josephine Ware, Mary Ellen Billups and Joseph Lee. Words of the old songs have been secured with some difficulty by Mrs. Miller and have been forwarded to Mrs. Richardson for inclusion in a national folklore book being published under her direction.