Women in History DowntownDC Callbox Tour: Flora Rollins Molton

Blues and Gospel Musician, 1908-1990

Flora Rollins Molton took up music as a young child in rural Louisa County, Virginia. Her father was a preacher, and it was in his church that she learned to sing and play the organ and accordion. The family also attended house parties, where she heard musicians play the guitar with a knife as a slide, and she soon learned to play the slide guitar, too, while tapping a tambourine with her foot.

The Great Depression (1929-1939) hit rural areas especially hard, and in 1937 Flora Molton’s brother, a minister at Florida Avenue Baptist Church, brought her to Washington. Born with poor vision that would eventually make her legally blind, Molton was lucky to have a gift for music. She was able to earn a living here as a street musician—and became a fixture first at Seventh and F Streets NW and later at 11th and F. She also preached in D.C. and Baltimore churches. If asked, she said she performed “spiritual and truth music,” a combination of the music she had grown up with and her own compositions. Favorite titles included “I Want to Be Ready to Hear God When He Calls” and “When the War Is Over.”

The “folk revival” of the 1960s brought new attention to old-time blues and gospel singers. Molton became part of D.C.’s folk and blues community and played in clubs and festivals, including Smithsonian Folklife Festivals, and at the Library of Congress in 1984. She recorded three albums, and Howard University made a documentary film about her. In 1987 she toured Europe—but also continued singing on the street until six months before her death in 1990.

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