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.