| Precious Bryant was born Precious Bussey on January
4, 1942 in Talbot County, Georgia, just east of Columbus. The third
child of nine, with seven sisters and a brother, was born into a family
of traditional musicians who lived in a close-knit community, surrounded
by many fine players and singers of traditional blues and gospel.
Precious recalls a childhood filled with many different kinds of homemade
music. Her mother was a piano player and an avid singer of church
songs. Her father, Lonnie James Bussey, was a traditional blues player.
Her uncle, George Henry Bussey, served
as her principal mentor and taught her to play bottleneck guitar and
to sing the old blues tunes. Several of her male cousins were members
of a "fife and drum" group, a rare type of folk band which,
with snare drums and homemade "reeds," often paraded and
serenaded at community celebrations, fish frys and on holidays around
Talbot and Harris counties.
|Photo by Adam Smith
The first instrument Precious Bryant ever attempted
to play was her father's old "home guitar," which was
so big that the six-year-old Precious could not lift it by herself.
She fondly recalls her father placing the guitar in her lap and
encouraging his daughter to "take it up" and learn to
play. At age nine she had advanced in her playing skills to the
point that he bought her an instrument of her own - a Silvertone
guitar from Sears & Roebuck.
Precious’ early performances were in the
Baptist Church. She and her siblings sang spiritual songs together
as The Bussey Sisters, with Precious and one of her older sisters
accompanying on guitar. Outside of church, Precious was asked to
play at parties and talent shows in and around Talbot County.
Her emerging repertoire was rooted in the traditional
sounds of the lower Chattahoochee River Valley, but it also began
to reflect the influence of the rhythm and blues and early rock
‘n’ roll that Precious heard on the radio. Precious
explains, "I listened to Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and all them.
Elmore James and blues like that. I would listen to a song on the
radio and write the words down and I wouldn’t worry about
the music ‘cause I could get the music. All I wanted to know
was the words."
Folklorist George Mitchell first recorded Precious
in 1969. Over a decade later, at Mitchell’s coaxing, she reluctantly
agreed to play at the Columbus, Georgia Chattahoochee Folk Festival.
Precious was an instant hit. Her naturally warm stage presence and
lively guitar style, combined with her excellent voice, quickly
won her a devoted audience. Since her debut in Columbus, Precious
Bryant has performed for scores of audiences in the United States
and abroad. In addition to the Chattahoochee Folk Festival, notable
venues include the Blues to Bop Festival in Lugano, Switzerland,
the North Georgia Folk Festival in Athens, the Canadian Folk Festival,
and the Alabama Folk Festival in Montgomery.
Fred C. Fussell
George Mitchell on Precious: "Precious Bryant
is a Georgia musical treasure. She is one of the last of the living
exponents, and certainly still the most active, of a truly wonderful
blues tradition that is unique to the southwest region of Georgia.
But, unusually, not only is she one of the last—she is no
doubt one of the best who ever sang and played this spirited style
of blues…whether in nearby Columbus, or in Europe, or in Canada,
or in New York or Atlanta, Precious Bryant has gotten thousands
and thousands of feet to tapping… to her infectious blend
of the old and the new, of the songs of her father and uncle, and
of her own compositions, most of which are keeping alive the great
and truly unique blues tradition of the lower Chattahoochee River
These days Precious plays mainly at home, with
an occasional show in Columbus or Atlanta. To see Precious play
live is a treat. She entices the audience, telling them, "Pat
your hands together, ain’t nobody sick, ain’t nobody
dead." Along with Precious’ own witty standards, any
song she chooses to play is instantly transformed into a moving
arrangement stamped with the attitude and assuredness of the true
performer she has become.
Precious Bryant is a rarity. Truly traditional
female blues players, especially those as vocally powerful and technically
skilled as Precious, have always been few. In the 1930s, Columbus,
Georgia's Gertrude "Ma" Rainey became known as the "Mother
of the Blues." Now, as we enter a new century, Talbot County's
Precious Bryant has secured her place in the world of traditional
American music as Georgia's "Daughter of the Blues."