S.C. Arts Awards: J. Michael King

2018 Recipient Feature Series

As the day nears for the 2018 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is going to take 10 days to focus on this year’s 10 recipients: five receiving the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts and five receiving the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, which are managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at USC.

This week, the Folk Heritage Award recipients are featured.


Photo by Donna Michelle Gregory

J. Michael King

Piedmont blues | Artist Award

Michael King is a composer, writer, and accomplished Piedmont blues musician with an insatiable love of traditional South Carolina music. He plays in the time-honored style of bluesman Reverend Gary Davis, a Laurens County native who played throughout Greenville and Spartanburg counties during the 1930s and ’40s.

The Piedmont blues, a unique regional distillation of the blues, blossomed in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia near the beginning of the 20th century. Influenced by ragtime music and early banjo techniques, Piedmont blues involves a light, finger-picking style and steady rhythms.

King focuses on the music he heard and learned as a teenager. The guitar stylings of South Carolina bluesmen like Blind Willie Walker, Josh White, and Pink Anderson are tremendous influences. He apprenticed under Ernie Hawkins, who studied with Gary Davis in the mid-1960s. King’s blues pedigree is indeed rich.

King has composed and performed music for four documentaries by filmmaker Stan Woodward, including Puddin’ Pot, a short film produced in 2002 exploring the community-based foodway tradition. He was instrumental in co-producing a recording of Piedmont blues classics entitled Blues Haiku. King also produced his own CDs, Carolina Bar-B-Q and Meat and Three, two collections of Piedmont blues and string band music featuring tunes about South Carolina’s distinctive cuisine.

King plays frequently with fellow musicians and Folk Heritage Award recipients Steve McGaha and Freddie Vanderford and has presented the South Carolina blues story to thousands of students and tourists throughout the state. He conducts educational programs about South Carolina Piedmont blues for Southside High School and the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, Hagood Mill Historic Site & Folklife Center in Pickens, and the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia.

A popular instructor, King teaches the Piedmont blues throughout the region. His teaching approach combines the history, music theory, and technical aspects of Piedmont blues. For more than 30 years, he has mentored musicians of all ages in and around upstate South Carolina and has taught the nuances of Piedmont blues to high school students in North Carolina.

Michael King has devoted his life to the Piedmont blues. The music has been his primary passion and endeavor – truly his livelihood. King is respected by his fellow musicians as both an excellent musician and an outstanding ambassador for South Carolina Piedmont blues.


South Carolina Arts Awards Day is Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Gov. Henry McMaster will present each recipient’s award beginning at 10:30 a.m. in the State House. The event is open to the public. Following the ceremony, the South Carolina Arts Foundation honors the recipients and the arts community at the S.C. Arts Awards Luncheon and Art Sale. Tickets are $50. Please go here for more information and reservations.


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