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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.

State to honor five with 2018 Folk Heritage Awards


  • 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.
  • 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.

McKissick Museum to host free symposium: Shared Traditions: Sacred Music in the South

The University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum will host the music symposium Shared Traditions: Sacred Music in the South Feb. 26 -27, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. The program will feature live performances, a panel session, presentations, and music workshops. All Shared Traditions programs are free and open to the public. The event is co-sponsored by the USC School of Music and Brookland Baptist Church. Shared Traditions will start with a meet-and-greet with Gullah storyteller Anita Singleton-Prather at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26 at McKissick Museum on USC’s historic horseshoe. Singleton-Prather, a recipient of the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, is a singer, actress, and the director and producer of Broadway Back In Da' Woods Productions, a full-stage musical theater experience featuring the performance group The Gullah Kinfolk. Friday evening will include a presentation at 6:30 p.m. by Dr. Eric Crawford on the topic of African-American spirituals in the South Carolina Sea Islands. Held at Johnson Hall at the Darla Moore School of Business on the USC campus, the talk will lead into a live performance of Circle Unbroken: A Gullah Journey from Africa to America by Singleton-Prather and The Gullah Kinfolk at 7 p.m. Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia will host all program events on Saturday, Feb. 27. The day will begin with a panel presentation titled “Vocal Godliness: Gospel in Black and White” and will feature current research by graduate students from Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Following this session, Dr. Minuette Floyd will present on the topic of the music of the African-American camp meeting. The keynote speaker, ethnomusicologist Dr. Cynthia Schmidt, will screen the award-winning documentary, The Language You Cry In, which tells the investigative story of discovering the significance of a Gullah song sung in the Mende language of Sierra Leone. Beginning with Dr. Lorenzo Turner’s research in South Carolina in the 1920s, the song becomes more layered in meaning through time on both sides of the Atlantic. Dr. Schmidt will share an update on her research and host a Q&A with the audience. Following the keynote address, conference participants will have the opportunity to attend three music workshops focusing on shape-note and hymn-raising traditions. Led by practitioners and choir leaders, these workshops will provide the opportunity to learn about the history of these traditions and the chance to participate in fellowship and song. Saturday’s program will conclude with an evening concert, highlighting the songs and styles learned during the workshops. A complete schedule is available on McKissick Museum's website. For more information, call Saddler Taylor at (803) 777-3714. This program is funded in part by the Humanities CouncilSC and the South Carolina Arts Commission. Image: The Gullah Kinfolk

Florence’s Sensational Brown Brothers have been together 54 years

From SCnow.com:
[caption id="attachment_16768" align="alignright" width="248"]Sensational Brown Brothers From left, Norris Brown, Brandon Brown, Lincolnville Mayor Charles Duberry, George Brown and Billy Brown[/caption] FLORENCE, S.C. – Since the 1960s, the Sensational Brown Brothers of the Savannah Grove area in Florence have been ministering all over the nation through gospel music . Singing did not begin as a choice for the nine brothers. It was a must and something their elders insisted they do.
“We all came from the farm, and it started off with singing for Easter,” said George Brown, one of the brothers in the group. “And from that, to a nickel to a dime, we performed in front of family.”
Billy Brown, another of the five remaining brothers, said they performed once a week for their grandparents while they were still children.
The Sensational Brown Brothers came together as a group in 1960 in Washington. Until then, the brothers sang in different groups.
“At that time, there were nine brothers,” Billy Brown said . “They were singing mostly around Washington, D.C. in the Maryland-Virginia area. Some traveled from there to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and they sang there during that time until 1974.”
In 1970, the group started recording music, Billy Brown said. Around 1974, the brothers moved home to Florence.
“We’ve probably recorded better than 100 songs over the 54 years we’ve been singing,” George Brown said . “We’ve recorded back when there were LPs and 45s, and the 8-track tapes. From there , we had cassettes, and we did videos.”
George Brown said the first national label the group signed with was Malaco Records out of Jackson, Miss. Since then, they have worked with other Southern record labels.
Life experiences are the inspiration behind most of the group’s music.
Over the years, the brothers have worked with notable groups and artists such as the Dixie Hummingbirds, James Cleveland, the Mighty Clouds of Joy and Shirley Caesar.
“You name it, we’ve been there with them,” Billy Brown said. “We did tours in California, all over the East Coast, Milwaukee and St. Louis.”
Billy Brown said the group has recorded music that people have labeled as hits such as “Jacob’s Ladder,” “I tried Jesus,” and “When the Roll is Called.”
George Brown said the group tried to tour only on the East Coast, but sometimes they had to go out west.
“One time we went out there, it was about three or four weeks before we got back home,” George Brown said. “We’ve all gotten old now. We don’t do that anymore.”
Due to age, George Brown said the group tries to work only on weekends now. However, years ago, they would work anytime, and the nine brothers did all of the driving, played all of the music and were responsible for setups for their performances.
They have performed in auditoriums, civic centers, schools, outside venues and churches.
George Brown said he remembers when the group would travel during the ’ 70s and was not able to stay in certain places.
“We had to find places to stay, because we weren’t welcomed in lots of places like Alabama and Georgia,” he said. “We had to make some adjustments to how we would operate during that time.”
He also recalls a time when the group had to sleep at a rest area, because they could not get gas from a certain gas station in order to finish their trip.
“We didn’t have enough gas to go all night, so we had to spend the night in the rest area so we could wait until the regular gas stations opened up during the day. But things have really changed.”
He said it is a blessing that things have changed some.
Age has changed the group.
“We got old, and we started hiring people to do things that we aren’t able to do now,” George Brown said. “We have a six-member band.”
In addition to adding a band, the Sensational Brown Brothers have added other members to sing with them. The brother’s cousin Cleveland Williams now performs with them, as well as Brandon Brown, a freshman at West Florence High School. They also have a road manager now, and a bus driver who takes the group from place to place.
On the second Thursday of every month, the group performs for the residents at Commander’s Nursing Center in Florence.
“And they will be waiting for us to walk through the door,” Billy Brown said. “And I think it does us more good than it does them, because I look around at those fellows singing without any music. Water be coming out of their eyes.”
Billy Brown said it is joyful to see the residents enjoy the message that they sing.
With their music ministry, the Sensational Brown Brothers have touched many lives.
“We had men that have come up and say how over the years, they’ve changed their life because of our singing ministry,” George Brown said. “That makes us feel real good. I guess that has something to do with our driving factor that kept us going through these years.”
Three people in particular have entered into the Christian ministry because of the Brown brother’s music throughout the state, Billy Brown said.
For people such as Terry James, he grew up knowing the Sensational Brown Brothers. James grew up in church. His grandfather was a Baptist preacher.
“Back then, there were a lot of black groups out in this area, and I’ve basically grown with them all my life,” James said. “They’re a good group. It takes a lot of endurance to hang around and sing for that long. You’ve got to be committed to gospel singing and committed to serving Christ.”
George Brown said everything the group does comes straight from the heart. Over the years, he said the group has been blessed.
“I don’t know what else we’ll do now if we quit this,” he said. “It’s gotten late in the day. We’re looking forward to trying to keep doing it for some years to come, if the Lord will give us the health and the strength. We’re going to try to make it work.”

Music minister plays it forward after Traditional Arts apprenticeship

The South Carolina Arts Commission’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program connects master traditional artists and eager apprentices throughout the state to ensure that South Carolina's traditions are transmitted to future generations. In this series, Doug Peach, folklife and traditional arts program coordinator, catches up with former apprentices to see how and where they are applying skills learned through the program. ----------------------- Byron Dixon is focused at the piano. His eyes are locked on the sheet music in front of him, while his ears are fixed to the voices around the room. Under his direction, the Church Choir at Second Calvary Baptist Church in Columbia rehearses the hymn, “You Can’t Beat God’s Giving.” Their praises echo through the church's halls. [caption id="attachment_13086" align="alignright" width="204"]byrondixon Byron Dixon leads the choir at Second Calvary Baptist Church[/caption] As the choir sings a few stanzas, the melody finds its familiar place. Dixon locks into a strong and playful accompaniment. One by one the choir members close their eyes and heads begin to sway. “I didn’t play [“You Can’t Beat God’s Giving”] out of the book, I gave it that traditional flavor,” explained Dixon after the rehearsal. While Dixon has been a pianist the better part of his life, the “traditional flavor” he refers to was learned through his participation in the South Carolina Arts Commission’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program in 2012. Dixon completed a year-long program with master artist Dr. Ronald High -- a former professor of music at Benedict College -- that focused on style, musical theory, and the performance aesthetics of traditional African American gospel music for piano. Although Dixon was already a minister of music at Second Calvary before his work with Dr. High, the Apprenticeship Program allowed Dixon to expand the breadth of his musical abilities inside the church. Dixon elaborates: “the apprenticeship [taught me] how to take the classical and fuse it together with the traditional, even with my [own] playing style . . . before I took the apprenticeship there were certain chords that I would put into traditional hymns [that] did not belong there.” This fluency in diverse musical styles allowed Second Calvary Baptist Church to combine their Voices of Praise and Sanctuary Choirs into a single Church Choir. Now, on any given Sunday, the congregation is brought closer to the Lord with hymns, anthems, traditional gospel and contemporary gospel, all in a single service. Dixon stressed that the ability to incorporate these various genres into one choir expanded the ways in which God could be worshipped at Second Calvary Baptist Church. Dixon says, “every purpose of the church is to worship freely, but there are different ways of worship. Everybody don’t worship through just one style of music.” When not at Second Calvary Baptist Church, Dixon can be found at Eau Claire High School in Columbia, where he works in the music department and as a special education teacher. Dixon also teaches the gospel choir at Eau Claire High School and uses the tools he gained through the Apprenticeship Program with his high school students. “I take a lot of the techniques that Dr. High taught me in the apprenticeship and put it into my young people who are singing now, [who are] not getting the proper musical training that they need at the high school level.” Whether it is in the service of the Lord or his local community, Byron Dixon uses the skills he developed through the Apprenticeship Program as tools for education, spiritual communion, and continued musical growth.

by Doug Peach