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S.C. Arts Awards: Voices of Gullah Singers

2019 Recipient Feature Series

As the day nears for the 2019 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is taking 15 days to focus on this year's recipients: nine 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 UofSC. In between the two groups, we'll run a special feature on S.C. Arts Awards sponsor Colonial Life.

The Voices of Gullah Singers

Gullah Singing The Voices of Gullah Singers—Gracie Gadson and Rosa and Joseph Murray—have performed as an ensemble for five years. Each of these singers has a long and distinguished performing career.
  • Gracie “Minnie” Gadson (right) first learned Gullah songs from her grandmother Queen Singleton, who was a member of the Hopes and John Fripp Praise Houses on St. Helena Island. These praise houses were maintained by Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Gracie has been a member since 1968. In the 1970s and 1980s, Gadson sang with local groups the Soul Survivors and the Praise House Shouters. Her early exposure to the old spirituals and experience singing in performing groups has resulted in a large repertoire of songs, including the shouting song “Adam in the Garden Pickun’ Up Leaves” and the mournful song “Remember Me, Lord,” which date back to the mid-19th century.
  • Rosa Mae Chisolm Murray (center) is one of the few living islanders who attended the famed Penn School. Murray gained early exposure to Gullah songs as a member of the Mary Jenkins Praise House, which still holds Sunday evening services on the island. She later joined the group Gospel Four and the Adam’s Street Gospel Singers in the 1980s. These groups sang gospel songs but also performed reenactments of the slave songs first recorded on St. Helena Island. Murray continues to sing songs such as “Till We Meet Again” and the haunting “Lord Do Something for Me” at festivals on the island. Murray first joined Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1952 and continues to serve as president of the Senior and Adult Choir, thus ensuring the survival of the Gullah spiritual tradition.
  • Joseph Murray’s (left) first experiences with Gullah songs came as he watched his mother Helen Murray dance the ring shout at the praise house in Big Estate, South Carolina. He later sang for many decades with choirs in Huspah Baptist Church in Beaufort. Murray currently serves as a deacon in Ebenezer Baptist Church, one of the few churches on St. Helena Island where the congregation still sings the old Gullah songs. Visitors to Penn Center’s annual Heritage Days Festival are often directed to Ebenezer during the prayer meeting services to hear the old slave songs. Murray’s extensive knowledge of Gullah songs and language has been a critical part of maintaining the tradition within the church.
As the Voices of Gullah Singers Gadson and the Murrays have performed at many events including Heritage Days, The Original Gullah Festival, and local praise house services. Voices of Gullah Singers also features 2018 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award recipient Deacon James Garfield Smalls. The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina has presented the trio to seven schools in Beaufort and Jasper Counties as part of their program, Reach: A Gullah Musical Journey. The singers truly enjoy singing for students and teaching the next generation their rich legacy of Gullah-Geechee spirituals.
South Carolina Arts Awards Day is Wednesday, May 1, 2019. The festivities begin at 10 a.m. with a reception that leads up to the awards ceremony at the UofSC Alumni Center (900 Senate St., Columbia). The event is free and 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.

Meet the Recipients

Use these links to read the long-form bios of the other 2019 South Carolina Arts Awards recipients.

All you need to know about S.C. Arts Awards Day

14 recipients to be honored May 1

  • Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts, Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award presented at ceremony
  • S.C. Arts Awards Luncheon & Art Sale to follow

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Two awards honoring high arts achievement in South Carolina will be presented to 14 recipients Wednesday, May 1, 2019 during South Carolina Arts Awards festivities at the UofSC Alumni Center in Columbia. The South Carolina Arts Awards, sponsored by Colonial Life, are a joint presentation of the South Carolina Arts Commission, South Carolina Arts Foundation, and McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina to award the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards.

Awards Ceremony

Both awards will be presented at the awards ceremony at the UofSC Alumni Center (900 Senate St., Columbia), which begins with a reception from 10-10:45 a.m. The official ceremony begins at 11 a.m. S.C. Arts Commission Board Chairman Henry Horowitz and Executive Director Ken May will be joined by South Carolina First Lady Peggy McMaster to present the awards to each recipient. Nine recipients from their respective categories are being recognized with Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Awards for the Arts for outstanding achievement and contributions to the arts in South Carolina:
  • ARTIST: Tyrone Geter, Elgin
  • INDIVIDUAL: Kathleen Bateson, Hilton Head Island
  • ARTS IN EDUCATION (Individual): Simeon A. Warren, Charleston
  • ARTS IN EDUCATION (Organization): South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, Hartsville
  • BUSINESS: Hampton III Gallery, Taylors
  • GOVERNMENT: Florence County Museum, Florence
  • ORGANIZATION: The Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston
  • ORGANIZATION (Special Award): Town Theatre, Columbia
  • LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Cecil Williams, Orangeburg
Four artists and one advocate are being recognized with the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award 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. They are:
  • John Andrew “Andy” Brooks (Liberty): Old-Time Music
  • Dorothy Brown Glover (Lincolnville): Quilting
  • Julian A. Prosser (Columbia): Bluegrass Music
  • The Voices of Gullah Singers (St. Helena Island): Gullah Singing
  • Dale Rosengarten, Ph.D. (McClellanville): Advocacy, African-American Lowcountry Basketry & Southern Jewish Heritage
McKissick Museum will celebrate this year’s Folk Heritage Award recipients at a mixer Tuesday, April 30 from 6-8 p.m., at the Blue Moon Ballroom (554 Meeting St, West Columbia). Admission is free for McKissick members or $5 for non-members. RSVP’s can be made, or tickets purchased, by going here. For more information, or to RSVP or purchase a ticket over the phone, call 803.777.2876.

S.C. Arts Awards Luncheon & Art Sale

The S.C. Arts Foundation will honor the recipients afterward during a fundraising luncheon at the UofSC Alumni Center (900 Senate St., Columbia). Works by South Carolina will be on sale from 11 a.m. to noon, with proceeds supporting S.C. Arts Commission programs. The luncheon program is expected to run from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
  • Unique ikebana flower arrangements, in partnership with Ikebana International Chapter #182 of Columbia, will serve as table centerpieces. Each arrangement, available for sale, will be presented in an included, original vase crafted by a South Carolina artisan.
  • Art experiences will also be sold.
  • The keynote speaker will be S.C. Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May, retiring at the end of June 2019 after 33 years at the agency and the past nine as its leader, giving a “State of the Arts” message.
  • Luncheon tickets are $50 per person and available for purchase through SouthCarolinaArts.com or by calling 803.734.8696.

About the South Carolina Arts Commission

With a commitment to excellence across the spectrum of our state’s cultures and forms of expression, the South Carolina Arts Commission pursues its public charge to develop a thriving arts environment, which is essential to quality of life, education, and economic vitality for all South Carolinians. 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.

Five artists to receive 2019 Folk Heritage Awards from state

Awards to be presented May 1 at S.C. Arts Awards

Four artists and one advocate selected

S.C. Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at UofSC manage program


COLUMBIA, S.C. – The General Assembly is to honor five recipients with the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, presented annually to recognize work that keeps the state’s traditional art forms alive. Four artists and one advocate are to be 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 2019 recipients are:
  • John Andrew (Andy) Brooks (Liberty): Old-Time Music
  • Dorothy Brown Glover (Lincolnville): Quilting
  • Julian A. Prosser (Columbia): Bluegrass Music
  • Voices of Gullah Singers (St. Helena Island): Gullah Singing
  • Dale Rosengarten, Ph.D. (McClellanville): Advocacy, African-American Lowcountry Basketry & Southern Jewish Heritage
Print and web images of recipients available here. 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 UofSC. Community members make nominations to recognize exemplary artistic achievement/advocacy. An independent advisory panel appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House selects the recipients, who must be living and practicing in the state. “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.” The Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award and Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Awards are to be presented at the South Carolina Arts Awards sponsored by Colonial Life on Wednesday, May 1 in a morning ceremony at the UofSC Alumni Center (900 Senate St., Columbia). The S.C. Arts Foundation will honor the recipients afterward during a fundraising luncheon where South Carolina artists’ work will be on sale, all 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. McKissick Museum will host a mixer to celebrate this year’s Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award recipients on Tuesday, April 30 from 6-8 p.m., at the Blue Moon Ballroom in West Columbia (554 Meeting St, West Columbia). Admission is free with a McKissick membership, or $5 for non-members. Please RSVP or purchase your ticket by going here. For more information, or to RSVP or purchase a ticket over the phone: 803.777.2876. Guests are encouraged to buy/reserve their tickets by Friday, April 26. Only a limited number of tickets will be available at the door on the evening of the event, and admission will be on a first-come, first served basis. 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

John Andrew (Andy) Brooks (Artist Category, Old-Time Music) first plucked the strings of a banjo when he was 4 years old. Since, he’s picked up guitar and fiddle and gone so far as to win the 2016 S.C. Fiddle Championship while placing second in banjo that year. His passion for traditional Southern music has resulted in a collection of hundreds of tunes he knows and plays by heart. An avid educator, Brooks has taught for the Young Appalachian Musicians After School Program and the Oconee Heritage Center, and this summer will teach Appalachian banjo at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. Brooks plays for dances and hosts jams where musicians of different skill levels and repertoires share and learn from one another. In 2016, he co-founded the Old Keowee Contra Dance to benefit the Oconee Heritage Center’s music progra Brooks’ art form, old-time music, blends historic influences from Africa and the British Isles and features sacred and secular songs. Brooks, who calls Liberty, S.C. home, considers old-time music a community-based tradition, in which everyone contributes to the music, through dancing, playing or singing. Dorothy Brown Glover (Artist Category, Quilting) is well-known for her distinctive use of traditional quilt design elements and patterns from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in 1925, Glover creates exquisite quilt tops incorporating improvisational design methods that were popular among quilters whose social and economic status did not allow for the purchase of store-bought fabric for use in quilt making. Glover gracefully transforms thoughts and visions onto fabric and encourages other quilters, regardless of skill level, to experiment with patterns, colors, and designs. She generously shares her knowledge with all who want to learn and makes herself available to younger artists who seek out her experience and guidance. Glover lives in Lincolnville, S.C. Julian A. Prosser (Artist Category, Bluegrass Music) loved the sound of music played by his grandfather and uncles, growing up on the family farm. When he was 11, Prosser earned the money to buy his first guitar and was soon also playing banjo and guitar. By 1938, Prosser and some friends put together The Carolina Hillbillies, but it never reformed after World War II claimed several of the band. Prosser later took up bluegrass again, and in 1978 he, his son, and some friends formed The Carolina Rebels bluegrass band, and they’ve been playing ever since. Prosser has mentored many younger local musicians, including three fellow Jean Laney Harris Award recipients. Prosser remains a passionate advocate for bluegrass music and is recognized as both a pioneer and master of his craft by many local bluegrass performers. Now 93, he continues to be a driving force to keep local bluegrass alive and well in the Palmetto State. Prosser lives in Columbia, S.C. Voices of Gullah Singers (Artist Category, Gullah Singing) is made up of Gracie “Minnie” Gadson, Rosa Mae Chisholm Murray, and Deacon Joseph Murray. Each singer has a long and distinguished performing career, with deep roots in the praise house tradition. As a trio over the past 5 years, Voices of Gullah have performed at many events including Penn Center’s annual Heritage Days, The Original Gullah Festival, and local praise house services. Recently, the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina presented the trio to seven schools in Beaufort and Jasper counties as part of their program, Reach: A Gullah Musical Journey. The singers truly enjoy singing for students and teaching the next generation their rich legacy of Gullah-Geechee spirituals. The Voices of Gullah Singers are based in St. Helena Island, S.C. Dale Rosengarten, Ph.D. (Advocacy Category, African-American Lowcountry Basketry & Southern Jewish Heritage) has been researching the sweetgrass basketry tradition for over 30 years. Her fieldwork with basket makers and archival research on the tradition’s evolution have culminated in landmark projects like McKissick Museum’s 1986 exhibit, Row upon Row, Sea Grass Baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry and Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Tradition (2008), both of which toured nationally. Rosengarten coordinated a 1988 conference in Charleston which resulted in agreements between basketmakers and elected officials on land concerns and the importance of the tradition. She has authored numerous publications on Lowcountry baskets and their history. Her knowledge and connections to basketmakers have been essential to numerous cultural institutions, including the Smithsonian, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Underground Railroad History Museum. In 1995, Rosengarten was hired as a historian and curator at the College of Charleston Addlestone Library in recognition of her work on South Carolina and Southern Jewish traditional life. She has dedicated her professional and personal life to advocating for the ways traditional arts link us to a shared human experience greater than our singular activities, thereby enriching contemporary society. Rosengarten lives in Charleston, S.C.

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 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday through Friday, 11:00am – 3:00pm 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

With a commitment to excellence across the spectrum of our state’s cultures and forms of expression, the South Carolina Arts Commission pursues its public charge to develop a thriving arts environment, which is essential to quality of life, education, and economic vitality for all South Carolinians. 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.