Friday, April 12, 2013



Fleeta Mitchell's faith was always blind.

She didn't have to see God or Jesus to know that they were there beside her every day.

She did not need to see the wonders of God's world, the red radiant twilights, flowing fields of fragrant flowers, lush green pine forests or our spacious crystal blue skies.

She knew they were there and could only imagine their glorious splendor.

For more than ninety years, Fleeta played the piano although she couldn't see the keys.

In fact, Fleeta Mitchell could not see any thing at all. She was blind.

Blind from birth, it didn't take long for Fleeta to discover that there was something special in store for her life.

Born on February 28, 1913, one hundred years ago today, to Rev. John and Queen Nichols, of Cadwell, Georgia, Fleeta Mitchell began playing the piano at the age of five. Her parents moved to Rome, Georgia, where her father worked as a farm laborer.

Fleeta Mitchell (courtesy of Art Rosenbaum)

Fleeta, then eight years old, was lucky enough to be enrolled in the Georgia Academy for the Blind. It was there where she was introduced to other blind persons, some of whom shared her gift of music. In particular, Fleeta became friends with William Samuel McTell, known as "Blind Willie" McTell by his legions of admirers as one of Georgia's most talented blues artists.

"I used to love to hear my daddy play a harp. But I'm going to tell the truth. I used to play blues. I played the blues at dances," Fleeta told the Athens Banner Herald. It was in the School for the Blind where she met Nathaniel Mitchell, who was also blind. Fleeta fell in love and the couple talked about getting married. Fleeta recalled it was her husband, who wanted her to give up singing in the blues.

"He didn't want no wife playing the blues. I loved that sweet old thing,'' Fleeta reminisced to an Athens reporter about her husband to whom she was married for 57 years.

"His people didn't want me because I couldn't see. At school I learned cooking. They taught sewing and how to clean up, make up beds,'' she said.

"His mother had a fit when he wrote and told her he was going to bring his wife. She told him, `You can come, but leave her there.' Now wasn't that crazy? I was so hurt and didn't want to come,'' Fleeta continued.

"I'm from Dublin, Georgia, a place called Cadwell. I was born blind. I've never seen in my life,'' Fleeta Mitchell told Wayne Ford of the Athens Banner Herald in a 2002 interview.

"She came out of the old style of singing and playing by ear, but (in school) she learned some classical and more formal music, which she integrated into what she played. She played with deep feeling and had a great style, but she never followed the path of trying to make recordings as some of the people who were as talented as she. She wanted to use her talent for her faith and for the church. She is a powerful singer and very personable. She has a very large repertoire of songs, very old spirituals, gospel and more recent songs,'' said Art Rosenbaum, who began recording Fleeta singing back in the 1970s.

Rosenbaum, an art professor at the University of Georgia, developed a passion for collecting the rapidly disappearing folk and gospel songs of the South. A talented visual artist himself, Rosenbaum often paints pictures of his musical subjects, including several of Fleeta Mitchell.

Rosenbaum went on to win a Grammy Award in 2008 for his compilation of folk, country and gospel music, "Art of Field Recording Volume 1" as Best Historical Album. Rosenbaum's son, Neil, has recently produced a video, "Sing My Troubles By," which features Fleeta's music along with many other artists from Georgia.

"Sadly, the old-timers are leaving us," the elder Rosenbaum lamented.

In the last years of their lives, Fleeta and Nathaniel Mitchell appeared in churches and music festivals in North Georgia.

For nearly a half century, the Mitchells called St. John's Holiness Church as their home church, although Fleeta was raised in a Methodist family and Nathaniel in a Baptist one.

In the latter years of her life, Fleeta, known to all as "Sister Mitchell" or "Mother Mitchell" struck up a friendship with her dearest friend ,Willie Mae Eberhart, who took in the couple when they reached that point in life when they couldn't take care of themselves.

Everywhere she went, people loved her," said Eberhart, (above with Mitchell, @ Online Athens)  who enjoyed her years with the Mitchells.

Fleeta Mitchell passed among the angels on March 7, 2011. She was buried in the cemetery of her church, New Bethlehem Baptist Church outside of Athens.

"She was a wonderful woman, a good friend and a powerful singer and musician and one of the most generous, giving people I've ever met,'' Rosenbaum remembered of his old friend. And on this day, he is glad that Fleeta is being remembered in her home county on the 100th anniversary of her birth.

For nearly a century, Fleeta Mitchell sang the praises of God's Amazing Grace in the pitch black darkness of her world. Fleeta once was blind. Now, as she sits at the keys in God's heaven, she sees all of the glory of his kingdom which she only saw inside her earthly soul.


To see and hear Fleeta Mitchell sing, check out her hauntingly beautiful and inspiring, "The Mumblin Word" at A 1984 version of "Up Above My Head" and "Brother, You Ought To Have Been There," can be found at To learn more about Fleeta go to:


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