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“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.

Renaissance Foundation presents the Gospel Heritage Festival

The Renaissance Foundation's second annual Gospel Heritage Festival takes place at 6 p.m. on Sept. 22 at the Koger Center for the Arts. The festival honors gospel pioneers of the Midlands and surrounding communities who work to preserve the rich legacy of gospel music and provides a platform to showcase college gospel choirs. Guest artist is the Rev. Shirley Ceasar, “First Lady of Gospel Music” and “Queen of Gospel." Rev. Ceasar started out in the early 1960s singing with The Caravans and became a solo artist in 1966. Her many honors include 11 Grammy Awards, 13 Stellar Awards, 18 Doves, an RIAA gold certification, an Essence Award, and an NAACP Achievement Award. She has also been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. A choir comprised of the Midland's college and university choirs will present a tribute performance honoring gospel legends. Tickets can be purchased by calling the ticket office at (803) 251-2222, online at www.capitoltickets.com  or by calling the Renaissance Foundation (803) 733-5634.  Adult prices are $35, $27.50, and $20. Student price is $15 with student ID. Proceeds go towards the transformation of Historic Bethel into a Cultural Arts Center and Arts-in-Education/Edu-History Program. For more information, visit the Renaissance Foundation's website. Via: The Renaissance Foundation

Musical ensembles invited to apply for American Music Abroad

Musical ensembles - here's your chance to serve as a cultural diplomat and share your talents with a global audience. American Music Abroad sends 10-12 ensembles on international musical exchanges and is open to ensembles that specialize in hip hop, rock & roll, jazz, country, and other American roots music, including but not limited to Native American, Latin, Afro-Caribbean, blues, bluegrass, Cajun, gospel and zydeco. Applications are now being accepted for the 2013-2014 program. Deadline is Jan. 18, 2013. Up to 40 ensembles will be invited to live auditions. American Music Abroad is a partnership between American Voices and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Through public concerts, interactive performances with local musicians, lectures and workshops, the American Music Abroad program embraces music as a diplomatic tool to bring people together and foster greater mutual understanding. Visit the American Music Abroad website for details and application information. Photos: Act of Congress, a band from Birmingham, Alabama, performed in Thailand, the Philippines, Palau and East Timor in September 2012 as part of American Music Abroad. Via: American Voices American Voices  


New Harmonies exhibition explores the roots of American music

[gallery link="file"] Hartsville and Walterboro are the last South Carolina stops on the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition, "New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music." New Harmonies explores Americans' creative expression through music -- music known by names such as the blues, country western, folk ballads and gospel. The instruments vary from fiddle to banjo to accordion to guitar to drum, but a drum in the hands of an African sounds different than one in the hands of a European or an American Indian. Yet all the rhythms merge, as do the melodies and harmonies, producing completely new sounds -- new music. Through photographs, recordings, instruments, lyrics and artist profiles, the exhibition explores the distinct cultural identities of music that shaped America and made this country the birthplace of more music than any place on earth. The story is full of surprises about familiar songs, histories of instruments, the roles of religion and technology, and the continuity of musical roots from "Yankee Doodle Dandy" to the latest hip hop CD. New Harmonies is on exhibition at the Black Creek Arts Council in Hartsville until Nov. 11. The exhibition then moves to the Colleton County Museum and Farmers Market in Walterboro from Nov. 17 - Jan.5.  Marlena Smalls and the Hallelujah Singers will perform at the opening Nov. 17. Developed as part of the Museum on Main Street program, New Harmonies is designed especially for small museums and rural audiences that lack regular access to traveling exhibitions. New Harmonies is sponsored in South Carolina by the Humanities CouncilSC. Photos (top, left to right): Blues "harpist" James Cotton. Spanish American musicians in Taos, New Mexico, 1940. American Indian Powwow, 2006. (bottom, left to right): Folk musicians, New York City, 1960s. Nathan Williams and his Zydeco Chas Chas, Louisiana. Roy Acuff at the Grand Ole Opry, 1939. Via: Humanities CouncilSC, Museum on Main Street


Cast your vote for new Spartanburg Music Trail inductees

The Spartanburg Music Trail is taking votes for the next set of honorees. The trail presents Spartanburg's legacy as a birthplace of musical careers and as of a contributor to American roots music such as blues, jazz, country, gospel and bluegrass. The trail is marked with signs throughout downtown, and a cell phone audio tour is available as well. You can read about the eight nominees and vote for up to two of them in this article in GoUpState.com. Visit the Spartanburg Music Trail website to learn about the first 12 musicians who were inducted. Via: Spartanburg Music Trail, GoUpstate.com [caption id="attachment_1372" align="aligncenter" width="551"] Pink Anderson (1900-1974). Piedmont bluesman who lived most of his life in Spartanburg. The rock group Pink Floyd is partially named after him.[/caption]