Elder Roma Wilson

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Elder Roma Wilson
Born (1910-12-22) December 22, 1910 (age 106)
Hickory Flat, Mississippi, United States
Genres Gospel[1]
Occupation(s) Harmonicist, singer, clergyman
Instruments Harmonica
Years active 1930s–present

Elder Roma Wilson (born December 22, 1910) is an American gospel harmonica player and singer.[1] A clergyman, Wilson discovered he had a degree of notability later in his life, having previously been unaware of interest in his work.


Wilson was born in Hickory Flat, Mississippi.[1] His father was one-half Muscogee.[2] Wilson was a self-taught harmonica player in his early teens, using the discarded instruments of his elder siblings (he had five brothers and four sisters). He developed an unusual "choking" style, derived from the difficulty of soliciting sounds from his well-worn instruments.[1] By the age of fifteen, he was working on the railroad. He later worked at a sawmill. Wilson married at the age of nineteen. He became an ordained minister in the Pentecostal church in 1929, and he joined the self-styled Reverend Leon Pinson, who played the guitar, in traveling across north Mississippi, both playing and preaching. They developed a strong church following.

Wilson moved to Michigan in 1940 and later to Detroit. He continued his musical interests, playing on street corners. In 1948, he played in a record store on Hastings Street in Detroit and was recorded by the shop owner. The owner subsequently allowed the tracks to be released, and students of Wilson's style of playing were intrigued. Wilson was unaware of the attention.[1][2] Following the death of his first wife, he moved back to Mississippi. He remarried in 1977. By 1989, following a chance telephone call, Wilson reactivated his musical partnership with Pinson. He became aware of global interest in his recordings, which he heard for the first time in 1991. Capitalizing on the notability, he and Pinson played at music festivals, including the Chicago Blues Festival and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.[1][2]

In 1993, Wilson was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship. In that year he also recorded the bulk of the music included on his debut album.[1] Most of tracks on his 1995 LP This Train were recorded when Wilson was in his early eighties. The sides contained a mixture of solo efforts, some accompanied by his wife or with a church choir, and included "Ain't It a Shame", "This Train Is a Clean Train", and "Amazing Grace". The album also included six harmonica-dominated pieces unwittingly recorded with his children in 1948.[3] Wilson was still preaching, singing and playing harmonica in Detroit in 2015, at the age of 104.[4]


Year Album title Record label
1995 This Train Arhoolie Records


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Ankeny, Jason. "Elder Roma Wilson". Allmusic. Retrieved October 28, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c Young, Alan (1997). Woke Me Up This Morning: Black Gospel Singers and the Gospel Life. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. pp. 15–25. ISBN 0-87805-943-1. 
  3. ^ a b "This Train – Elder Roma Wilson | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. 1994-11-23. Retrieved 2014-01-31. 
  4. ^ "Elder Roma Wilson, gospel harmonica virtuoso, still playing and singing in Detroit at 104 years old", Vimeo.com. Retrieved 1 October 2016