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S.C. Arts Awards: Blackville Community Choir

2018 Recipient Feature Series

As the day nears for the 2018 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is taking 10 days to focus on this year's 10 recipients: five receiving the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Governor's Awards 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.

Blackville Community Choir

A cappella Spiritual & Gospel Singing | Artist Award The Blackville Community Choir was formed in 1965 by Catherine Carmona of Blackville, South Carolina as the Macedonia Tabernacle Choir. Carmona recognized a need to engage young people in her community in a positive way. With her love of music, she organized the choir, with the help of the Reverend H. B. Johnson, former pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, and Mrs. Mary Johnson Elmore, who was very influential in organizing the choir. Carmona taught the songs she learned as a child, including African-American spirituals and the songs sung by enslaved African-Americans laboring in the fields. Carmona and her sisters grew up singing these same songs in church and at other events throughout the area. The choir practiced at Tabernacle Baptist Church and Macedonia Baptist Church in Blackville. They led the youth choir at both churches, traveled to other states to perform, and sang at nursing homes and at various events throughout the region. The choir’s repertoire is rich and varied – members have always maintained their love of spirituals and singing a cappella. Former directors of the youth choir were Marshall Johnson and Marie Sanders Wilson. In 1976, Sandra Beach became the choir director and the choir changed their name to The Blackville Community Choir. The group expanded to include members from different congregations and continued to sing at churches, festivals, funerals, weddings, banquets, public schools, and college graduations. In 1985, choir members organized the first Blackville Community Youth Choir, through which they continue to pass on their legacy by mentoring young people through music. The Blackville Community Choir considers traditional African-American spirituals important to their community. As a tribute to their ancestors, the choir feels a strong obligation to carry on this musical legacy. Choir members have organized and coordinated several programs, including “The Essence of Our Roots and a Journey Back in Time,” which explored their African-American musical and cultural roots. In 2017, they were involved with “Echoes from the Past,” a summer youth educational project tracing the origins of the spirituals and songs of enslaved Africans in the South. Choir members have been advocates for the arts, organizing an annual program featuring visual and performing artists, collectors, crafters, entrepreneurs, culinary artists, and storytellers. Looking ahead, the choir is planning a Youth Musical Workshop to teach traditional spirituals to young people in the community. Speaking to their joy in singing a cappella, one local minister commented, “They got more harmony than grits.”
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.

S.C. Arts Awards: Deacon James Garfield Smalls

2018 Recipient Feature Series

As the day nears for the 2018 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is taking 10 days to focus on this year's 10 recipients: five receiving the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Governor's Awards 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.

Deacon James Garfield Smalls

Traditional spirituals | Artist Award Deacon James Garfield Smalls sings songs that date back to the mid-19th century and, at 98, stands as one the most important active Gullah singers and cultural ambassadors. Smalls’ repertoire includes many of the songs documented in the ground-breaking songbook Slave Songs of the United States. The songbook was informed by the fieldwork of William Allen, Charles Ware, and Lucy McKim, who visited St. Helena Island in 1860. In addition, Smalls is a walking archive of the sacred songs that rang through the small confines of the Lowcountry praise house. His songs and inspirational words serve to educate younger generations, challenging them to learn about their rich history. As a young man, Smalls received musical training from B. H. Washington, a member of the St. Helena Quartet and the musical director at St. Joseph Baptist Church. Smalls sang in Washington’s renowned community choir The Hundred Voices, and he later assumed leadership of the ensemble. Smalls also served for many years as the director of the Senior Choir at St. Joseph Baptist Church. Beyond his early musical career, Smalls served in the U.S. Navy Seabees, carrying out his duties in the Pacific during World War II. Upon his return home to St. Helena Island, he supported a wife, Alvena Smalls, and family, worked a civil service job, managed a farm, and participated in programs at Penn Center. For more than 40 years, Smalls was active in the Penn Echoes, a musical ensemble comprised of Penn School graduates. Of the original 33 praise houses in the Lowcountry, St. Helena Island has two of the last remaining buildings, Jenkins and Croft. Historically, within the safety of the praise house, enslaved Africans would pray, sing, and perform the West African-derived ring shout. In the praise house, there are no instruments – only feet stomping and hand-clapping, which relate to West African clapping and drumming traditions. These rhythms, and the call-and-response style, speak to the creativity of enslaved Africans, who forged a new form of music from both African and European influences. Smalls first led Croft Praise House, but decreasing membership required joint services with members from the Jenkins Praise House. During the service, he sings many of the songs the community considers “his” songs, such as “In that Great Getting Up Morning,” “Don’t Let the Devil Fool You,” “Ride On, King Jesus,” and “Every Time I Feel the Spirit.”  Smalls fondly remembers staying with his grandmother, who instilled in him the importance of praise house services. Smalls was featured in an episode of the SCETV program “Carolina Stories,” in which Gullah scholar Emory Campbell stated that the praise house is “one of the most vivid legacies of Gullah life.” Over the past three decades, Deacon Smalls has participated in singing at Penn Center Community Sings, various island churches, and music festivals. His is a vital connection to the past, a time when the old songs were sung by everyone on the island. He embodies a life of dedication to community and the expressive power of sacred music.
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.

State to honor five with 2018 Folk Heritage Awards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 19 March 2018

  • Four artists and one advocate selected
  • Program managed jointly by McKissick Museum at USC and South Carolina Arts Commission
  • Awards to be presented May 2 at South Carolina Arts Awards Day
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Five South Carolina recipients are to be honored by the General Assembly with the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, presented annually to recognize work that keeps the state’s traditional art forms alive. The following five recipients – four artists and one advocate – are being recognized as practitioners and advocates of traditional arts significant to communities throughout the state. Their traditions embody folklife’s dynamic, multigenerational nature, and its fusion of artistic and utilitarian ideals. The 2018 recipients are:
  • The Blackville Community Choir (Blackville): A Capella Spiritual and Gospel Singing
  • Michael King (Greenville): Piedmont blues
  • Henrietta Snype (Mount Pleasant): Sweetgrass basketry
  • Deacon James Garfield Smalls (St. Helena Island): Traditional spirituals
  • Dr. Stephen Criswell (Lancaster): Folklife & Traditional Arts Advocacy
“The work of proliferating our state’s unique cultural heritage is an important one in an age of constant change,” South Carolina Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May said. “The intrinsic value of these treasured art forms is the story each tells of where and who we’ve been, and are, as a culture. We should all be grateful for the work these award recipients do on our behalf.” [caption id="attachment_2612" align="alignright" width="150"]Jean Laney Harris Jean Laney Harris[/caption] The Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award is named for the late State Rep. Jean Laney Harris of Cheraw, respected as an outspoken advocate and ardent supporter of the arts and cultural resources of the state. Up to four artists or organizations and one advocate may receive awards each year. The program is managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at USC. Community members make nominations to recognize exemplary artistic achievement/advocacy. An independent advisory panel appointed by the lieutenant governor and house speaker selects the recipients, who must be living and practicing in the state. The Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage and Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s awards, sponsored by Colonial Life, are presented at South Carolina Arts Awards Day on Wednesday, May 2 in a morning ceremony at the State House. The S.C. Arts Foundation will honor the recipients afterward during a fundraising luncheon at the USC Alumni Center (900 Senate St., Columbia). South Carolina artists’ work will be on sale to support the programs of the S.C. Arts Commission. Luncheon tickets are $50 per person and available for purchase through SouthCarolinaArts.com or by calling 803.734.8696. For more information about the Folk Heritage Awards, visit the McKissick Museum website at http://artsandsciences.sc.edu/mckissickmuseum or the S.C. Arts Commission website, SouthCarolinaArts.com.
ABOUT THE FOLK HERITAGE AWARD RECIPIENTS
  • Blackville Community Choir (Artist Category) was formed in 1965 as the Macedonia Tabernacle Choir. In 1976, the choir changed its name to The Blackville Community Choir. The group expanded to include members from different congregations and continued to sing at churches, festivals, funerals, weddings, banquets, public schools, and college graduations. Choir members have been advocates for the arts, organizing an annual program featuring visual and performing artists, collectors, crafters, entrepreneurs, culinary artists, and storytellers.
  • J. Michael King (Artist Category) is a composer, writer, teacher, and accomplished Piedmont blues musician with an insatiable love of traditional South Carolina music. 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. A popular instructor, King teaches the Piedmont blues throughout the region. For over 30 years, he has mentored musicians of all ages in and around upstate South Carolina.
  • Even at 98, Deacon James Garfield Smalls (Artist Category) sings songs dating back to the mid-19th century and stands as one the most important active Gullah singers and cultural ambassadors. Smalls received musical training from B.H. Washington, a member of the St. Helena Quartet and music director at St. Joseph Baptist Church. Smalls sang in Washington’s renowned community choir The Hundred Voices, and later led the ensemble. He also served for many years as director of the senior choir at St. Joseph Baptist Church. Beyond his early musical career, Smalls served in the Pacific with the U.S. Navy’s Seabees during World War II. Over the past three decades, Deacon Smalls has led the singing at Penn Center Community Sings, various island churches, and music festivals.
  • Henrietta Snype (Artist Category) is a Mount Pleasant native and third generation sweetgrass basket maker. Snype’s work has been featured at venues in the Lowcountry and in museums throughout the U.S., including the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art. Schools, museum shops, business owners, and private art collectors have commissioned works from her. She conducts workshops for public and private schools throughout Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties and does countless demonstrations for all ages.
  • Dr. Stephen Criswell (Advocacy Category) has worked in folklore and anthropology for more than 20 years. His most prominent contribution is his advocacy work for Native American culture, focusing on Catawba potters and contemporary expressive traditions. In 2005, the University of South Carolina Lancaster hired Criswell and challenged him to build and direct its Native American Studies program. After 13 years, the Native American Studies Center (NASC) houses the largest fully intact collection of Catawba pottery in existence and an extensive archival collection. Its new facility has welcomed 30,000 visitors from all over the world since 2012, raising awareness of the history, culture and traditions of Native people of the South.

ABOUT THE FOLKLIFE AND TRADITIONAL ARTS PROGRAM The Folklife and Traditional Arts Program is designed to encourage, promote, conserve and honor the diverse community-based art forms that make South Carolina distinct. The major initiatives of the program serve both established and emerging cultural groups that call South Carolina home. ABOUT MCKISSICK MUSEUM The University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum tells the story of southern life: community, culture, and the environment. The Museum is located on the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe with available parking in the garage at the corner of Pendleton and Bull streets. All exhibitions are free and open to the public. The Museum is open from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturdays. The Museum is closed Sundays and university holidays. For more information, please call at 803.777.7251 or visit http://www.sc.edu/study/colleges_schools/artsandsciences/mckissick_museum/. ABOUT THE SOUTH CAROLINA ARTS COMMISSION The South Carolina Arts Commission is the state agency charged with creating a thriving arts environment that benefits all South Carolinians, regardless of their location or circumstances. Created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1967, the Arts Commission works to increase public participation in the arts by providing services, grants, and leadership initiatives in three areas:
  • arts education,
  • community arts development,
  • and artist development.
Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina, by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources. For more information, visit SouthCarolinaArts.com or call 803.734.8696.