South Carolina singer, songwriter and blues artist Drink Small — known as the Blues Doctor — has been awarded a 2015 National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts. The National Heritage Fellowship is the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts and includes an award of $25,000. The National Heritage Fellows will be honored in Washington, D.C., at an awards ceremony Oct. 1, 2015, and a free concert on Friday, Oct, 2, 2015.
“This is a great honor for a South Carolina native son,” said Ken May, South Carolina Arts Commission executive director. “Drink Small’s accomplishments as a musician and his dedication to teaching others have enriched the cultural fabric of our state and our nation. He is certainly worthy of this prestigious recognition.”
“The art forms represented in this year’s class of National Heritage Fellows are wide-ranging,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Not surprisingly, the artists have a common bond in their efforts to both share their art forms within their communities and across the nation, while also ensuring their art forms are passed along to the next generation through teaching and mentoring.”
As a musician and teacher, Small has preserved the heritage of his community in South Carolina and has traveled around the county and abroad to share his unique blues styling and his deep bass voice. His style is drawn from the Piedmont blues tradition but also includes gospel, rhythm and blues, boogie-woogie, and Delta and Chicago style of blues.
Born in 1933 in Bishopville, South Carolina, Small grew up in a family of singers and musicians. He was a musician from a young age, having taught himself guitar and performing at house parties and at church. After high school he played guitar with the gospel group The Spiritualaires, even performing at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem. During this time, Small was named best gospel guitarist by Metronome.
In 1959 Small began to record and perform the blues, starting with the single “I Love You Alberta” on Sharp Records. He has toured nationally and internationally, performing in a host of historic venues such as the Chicago Blues Fest, the King Biscuit Festival, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, as well as two international world fairs.
In 1990 Small received South Carolina’s Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, the state’s highest award for lifetime achievement in the traditional arts. Small was featured on the cover of Living Blues, the renowned magazine on contemporary and legendary blues artists, in 1992. He was inducted into the South Carolina Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1999 and in 2013 received the Bobby “Blue” Bland Ambassador for the Blues award from the Jus’ Blues Foundation. A book about Drink Small’s life, Drink Small, the Life & Music of South Carolina’s Blues Doctor by Gail Wilson-Giarratano, was published in 2014 and funded in part by the South Carolina Arts Commission.
During his long career, Small has given back to both his local community and the larger tradition by mentoring younger performers and sharing his knowledge with students of all ages. Small has released seven albums over the course of his career and continues to perform.
Previous National Heritage Fellowship recipients from South Carolina are Mary Jackson, sweetgrass basketweaver (2010); Janie Hunter, singer/storyteller (1984); Mary Jane Manigault, seagrass basketmaker (1984); and Philip Simmons, ornamental ironwork (1982).
Each year the National Endowment for the Arts celebrates master folk and traditional artists that embody our nation’s constant evolving artistic landscape and diversity of culture. The recipients of this year’s NEA National Heritage Fellowships represent art forms ranging from those born and bred in the United States – such as the quilters of Gee’s Bend from Alabama – to those that are newer to our country – such as Rahim AlHaj, who immigrated to the United States from Baghdad.
The 2015 NEA National Heritage Fellowship recipients:
- Rahim AlHaj (Albuquerque, NM) — oud player & composer
- Michael Alpert (New York, NY) — Yiddish musician and tradition bearer
- Mary Lee Bendolph, Lucy Mingo, and Loretta Pettway, (Boykin, AL) — quilters of Gee’s Bend
- Dolly Jacobs (Sarasota, FL) — circus aerialist
- Yary Livan (Lowell, MA) — Cambodian ceramicist
- Daniel Sheehy* (Falls Church, VA) — ethnomusicologist/folklorist
- Drink Small (Columbia, SC) — blues artist
- Gertrude Yukie Tsutsumi (Honolulu, HI) — Japanese classical dancer
- Sidonka Wadina (Lyons, WI) — Slovak straw artist/egg decorator
*Daniel Sheehy is the recipient of the Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award. The Bess Lomax Hawes Award recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage.
Profiles of the artists are available in the Lifetime Honors section of the NEA’s website, along with photos and audio and video samples of their work.
The 2015 National Heritage Fellows will be honored in Washington, D.C., at an awards ceremony at the Library of Congress on Thursday, October 1, 2015, and a free concert on Friday, October 2, 2015, at 8 p.m. at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium. Both events are free and open to the public. Concert tickets are first come, first served and will be available later this summer. The concert will also be webcast live at arts.gov. More information about these events will be available this fall.
With the announcement of the 2015 class, the NEA has awarded 404 National Heritage Fellowships, recognizing master artists working in more than 200 distinct art forms, including bluesman B.B. King, Cajun fiddler and composer Michael Doucet, sweetgrass basketweaver Mary Jackson, cowboy poet Wally McRae, Kathak dancer and choreographer Chitresh Das, and gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples.
About the NEA National Heritage Fellowships
For more information on the NEA’s National Heritage Fellowships, including bios, interviews, and audio selections for the Heritage Fellows; portraits by Tom Pich of more than 170 Fellows in their homes, studios, and at sites that most vividly reflect the essence of their artwork; and publications such as a 30th anniversary publication, and a Masters of Traditional Arts Education Guide, visit arts.gov.
Nominations for the 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellowships
The NEA is currently accepting nominations for the 2016 class of NEA National Heritage Fellowships. The deadline is July 16, 2015. Visit the NEA’s website for more information and to submit a nomination.
About the National Endowment for the Arts
Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America.
Via: National Endowment for the Arts