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“Drop-in with Drink Small” to celebrate Blues Doctor’s National Heritage Fellowship

Columbia blues musician Drink Small, recently named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts, will be honored with a drop-in July 30 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at Tapp’s Art Center, 1644 Main St., Columbia. The event is free and open to the public.

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. “We wanted to have a local event to allow friends and fans to congratulate Drink on this prestigious accomplishment,” said Ken May, South Carolina Arts Commission executive director. “A National Heritage Fellowship is a big deal, and the entire state should be proud of Drink’s work and his dedication to keeping music traditions alive.” At the event, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin will present Small with a proclamation declaring July 30 as “Drink Small Day,” and DJ Preach Jacobs will set the tone with the blues and related music. A cash bar will be available. The drop-in is sponsored by the South Carolina Arts Commission, the City of Columbia, Tapp’s Arts Center and McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina. For more information about the NEA's National Heritage Fellowships, including bios, interviews, and audio selections for the Heritage Fellows, visit arts.gov.

“Blues Doctor” Drink Small awarded National Heritage Fellowship

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:

*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

“I just want my story told” — new biography delves into life of blues legend Drink Small

Gail Wilson-Giarratano was awarded a One-Time Project grant of $3,000 to help publish “Drink Small: The Life & Music of South Carolina’s Blues Doctor." Small will appear with Wilson-Giarratano at a book signing at Uptown Gifts, 1204 Main St., Columbia, Thursday, Dec. 11 from 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.  Small received a Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 1990. Find out more about Small on his Facebook page. From The State:

A new biography of one of South Carolina’s most-recognized bluesmen paints a portrait of an irrepressible showman who spent a lifetime “boogalooin’ on Saturday night and hallalujehin’ in church on Sunday.” But the story of Drink Small by Gail Wilson-Giarratano does more: It delves into the wellspring of Small’s signature Piedmont blues, from a horrifying boyhood accident in the cotton fields of Lee County to the baby thrust into his arms by a departing woman and the dimming of his eyesight in his later years. Blues and gospel flowed in and out of Small with abandon, no matter whether he was playing music festivals, touring with gospel groups like the Spiritualaires, or printing his own fliers to jumpstart a flagging career, she writes. “It was always highs and lows,” said Wilson-Giarratano, who will sign books Thursday at Uptown Gifts on Columbia’s Main Street. “He has always said everybody gets the blues, but not everybody has the blues.” In many ways, Wilson-Giarratano says, the story of Drink Small is the story of South Carolina, tortured and contradictory, mysterious and luminous. Always, always the geography of South Carolina, its cotton fields and wooden shacks, juke joints and houses of worship, its people, black and white, formed the soul of the man known as the “Blues Doctor.” He never wanted to leave, which in the end stymied his attempts to make it nationally and internationally. “Drink has been part of so many significant moments in people’s lives in South Carolina,” Wilson-Giarratano said. He played on college campuses, in churches and dance halls. There were gigs at blues festivals, beach pavilions and weddings. But in the end, she wonders: “How much do we know about his life?” ‘I just want my story told’ Wilson-Giarratano clearly loves Small, whom she met in the 1980s when she worked for the Lancaster Arts Council and ferried Small to various arts functions. After a hiatus working in New York, Wilson-Giarratano renewed her acquaintance with Small when she returned to South Carolina and began heading up the nonprofit City Year in Columbia. Shortly after his 80th birthday celebration Jan. 27, 2013, at the 145 Club in Winnsboro – a party where the blues legend celebrated the sayings he calls “Drinkisms” – Small and his wife, Adrina, asked Wilson-Giarratano to write his story. “I just want my story told. I ain’t got much time,” he told her. The History Press in Charleston published the 175-page book. A Kickstarter campaign, and grants from the S.C. Arts Commission and the Tradesman Brewing Co. of Charleston cleared the path to the book’s publication. Wilson-Giarratano had to purchase the first 500 books but she has signed over royalties to Small. The book already is getting some attention. The German blues online publication Wasswe-Prawda did a feature in hopes of luring the 82-year-old to come to Europe to tour. Small, who got on an airplane once many years ago for a European tour, isn’t about to do that again – he’s deathly afraid of flying – although he said Monday he is excited about the book launch. “Just don’t think of me as a blues and gospel man – they don’t have Drinkisms,” he said, speaking of his repertoire of life aphorisms. “I want everyone to read this book,” he said. “I guaranteed if you read this book, you are going to get hooked. It was one of those slam-jams. There is no other Drink Small. I’m an original.” ‘So sad make you wanna cry’ The story of the Bishopville native with the unusual name began in 1933 when he was born into a sharecropping family. Like thousands of other Southern children, he expected to live and work in the fields, but one moment on the old Stuckey plantation changed his path. The 8-year-old Drink was riding a mule-drawn wagon, when the wagon lurched into a trench, tossing Drink and cotton bales off the side. As his uncle Louis slapped the reins to get the mule moving again, the young Drink was caught under the moving wheel and suffered a severe injury to his back. Doctors and hospitals were out of reach of the Small family but a midwife rushed to the shack where Drink lay. Shortly after, she directed Drink’s mother, Alice “Missy” Small, to prepare a mud-clay mixture which she applied to Drink’s back and then wrapped him in thin strips of flannel and wool. It hardened into a makeshift body cast, which he wore for weeks. When the cast came off, it was clear he would never pick cotton again. Small turned that accident on its head and called it a moment of luck that turned him onto his musical path. He resisted Wilson-Giarratano’s probing into the long-ago incident. “He said something so sad make you wanna cry,” she said. “He didn’t want to talk about it. There is just a vulnerability, an underlying level of sadness and pain.” The most ‘unusual character’ The lyrics that Small penned through the years, and sometimes recorded, testify to the tribulations of his life as well as its joys – good food, particularly barbecue, pretty women, the thrill of the shag dance and the memories of his hometown. When he moved to Columbia in 1955, bringing his mother Missy with him to care for her, something was always surprising him or knocking him off his feet. There were great gigs, touring with the gospel group, the Spiritualaires, with the Staple Singers and with Sam Cooke, and his work at WOIC. But he also found himself in 1961 with a baby to support when a woman of his acquaintance told him she was having his child. A year later, the woman left the baby with Small and his mother to raise. In 1957, Sam McCuen was a 16-year-old white high school student, managing a fledgling entertainment business with his friend Bill Otis, when he met Drink Small and began a friendship that lasts to this day. McCuen swears Small could have made it big if he would only have been willing to leave South Carolina. But Small had done that in 1991 when he played the Finland Blues Festival and he wouldn’t do it again even though he was a sensation there. “We begged him, we pleaded with him and we even thought about drugging him and putting him in a body bag,” McCuen recalled. “Had he played Europe he would be a millionaire today. It just breaks your heart thinking about it.” Still, McCuen said, he wouldn’t have given anything for the friendship he has shared with Small. “He is the most unusual character you’ll ever meet in your lifetime,” McCuen said. “If you enjoy the foibles of life and the humor of living can you imagine having a friend like that?” “His Drinkisms, his spirit and his passion are still there.” If not fame and money, South Carolina has repaid his loyalty with awards galore, including induction into the S.C. Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, Wilson-Giarratano notes in the book. He also received a South Carolina Folk Heritage Award from the S.C. Legislature. “I’ve never met anybody who loves this state more,” she said.

Musician Drink Small to be honored as “Ambassador to the Blues”

Drink SmallSouth Carolina's own "Blues Doctor" Drink Small will be honored as Ambassador to the Blues during Night of the Living Legends, part of the annual awards conference being presented by the Jus' Blues Music Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee Aug. 1 - 3. The event features performances and entertainment tributes celebrating the achievements of internationally accomplished musicians, artists and industry professionals who have made an indelible mark in the history of Blues & Soul music. Small, a native of Bishopville, S.C., grew up in a family of singers and musicians. Small honed his talents while listening to the Grand Ol' Opry, gospel, blues, folk, and big band swing. His musical career began with playing guitar at house parties and at church. In the early 1960s, Small performed as an R & B singer and guitarist, and in the 1970s he continued to perform and record his material on his own label, Bishopville Records. He performed and taught at music seminars for students throughout South Carolina. Small's reputation as a musician and recording artist has earned him many honors. He received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 1990, was inducted into the S.C. Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1999 and into the S.C. Black Hall of Fame in 2001. Listen to samples of Drink Small's music here, and find out more about his upcoming performances on his Facebook page. Via: Jus' Blues Music Foundation