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Keeper of the Gullah culture Joseph ‘Crip’ Legree dies

Remembering Joseph Legree, recipient of the 2009 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award. From The Island Packet Column by David Lauderdale

Beaufort County — and, in fact, America — lost a piece of its fabric Friday when one of the last Gullah cast net makers died on St. Helena Island. Joseph Legree Jr., 92, died March 17 at his daughter’s house next to his blue cinderblock home on Seaside Road, where he would sit barefooted on a screened porch, his long fingers “building” cotton nets that would last a lifetime. The tall, thin man was known as “Crip” because he broke a leg as a child on remote St. Helena and walked with a slight limp. He was known as “Cap’n Crip” because he was a waterman most of his days — fishing, crabbing, shrimping and picking oysters. Some called him “Mr. Crip” out of respect. In 2009, he received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award from the S.C. Arts Commission, the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina, and the General Assembly — recognizing lifetime achievement in the folk arts. He was feted at the museum on the USC Horseshoe, and was recognized on the floor of the House of Representatives for preserving the cultural values and traditions of his Gullah ancestors. “My heart was full,” he said. He is to be inducted into the Penn Center’s 1862 Circle in April. Legree learned to make nets in a bateau at high tide, while waiting for another crack at the oyster beds. He learned from another St. Helena resident, Harry Owens, in a bateau made by Eddie Holmes. And so it went, generation after generation, all the way back to Western Africa. Even as fewer people went into the river, and those who did were armed with filament cast nets made in China, Legree labored the old way to produce practical works of art that could sell for $150 at the Penn Center gift shop on St. Helena. He also contributed to oral histories by demonstrating his craft and explaining it in his fast, Gullah tongue. Legree hung his handiwork from a nail on the porch, and with two small pieces of equipment in his long fingers — one like a large plastic needle and the other like an oversized emery board — he turned a spool of cotton string into a net 4- to 6-feet tall, with diameters of 8 to 12 feet. The nets were seen as a delicate link to an era when Sea Island craftsmen made their own tools, clothes, cuisine, bateaux, music, baskets, stories, songs, churches, homes, medicine and, sometimes, whiskey. It was a day of steady midwives, powerful deacons, roaming livestock, marsh tacky horses, rocking praise houses, sultry juke joints and bateaux pulled across entire sounds by oars. In Legree’s era, the Gullah were in the river for subsistence — for their families, and elderly neighbors. It also could turn a little profit. He sold the crab, clams and oysters. The fish and shrimp were for the families that still live in compounds across the rural St. Helena Island. Legree was born April 4, 1924, the second of Joseph Legree Sr. and Geneva Brown Legree’s 14 children. He left the Frogmore School after third grade to work in the fields to help his family survive. By age 17, he was a waterman, but he also planted crops and worked on the construction of Beaufort Memorial Hospital. His daughter, former Beaufort County tax assessor Bernice Wright, said Legree and his siblings were known for singing. He sang as he built his nets. She said that after being treated for the broken leg at age 9, her father never had to see a doctor again until he was in his 70s. He outlived two wives, and was then known for taking in people who had nowhere else to live, and driving the elderly to Beaufort to run errands in his 1987 Cadillac Brougham. He had a sharp memory and helped the family with reunions and recording family history. He was known as a quiet, gentle, no-nonsense man. Ervena Faulkner of Port Royal nominated Legree for the statewide award. She said at the time he was “a graduate of the school of common sense, hard work and high standards.” She said he was true Gullah: “Very wise, very observant.” The funeral service is to be held at noon Wednesday, March 22, at Bethesda Christian Fellowship on St. Helena Island. Visitation is 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, at Allen Funeral Home Chapel, 1508 Duke St. in Beaufort.

Folk Heritage Awards can open doors for recipients

Nominate a traditional artist or advocate by December 16! Anita Singleton PratherThe Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards are presented by the South Carolina General Assembly to traditional arts practitioners and advocates throughout the state. In addition to honoring those working or supporting the traditional arts, the awards can help increase opportunities for  individual artists and advocates. The 2014 recipient for Gullah advocacy, Anita Singleton-Prather of Beaufort (pictured right), has used her award as a productive tool to advance her career. The award opened the door for two major bookings for her group, Aunt Pearlie Sue and the Gullah Kinfolk, at the Peace Center in Greenville and the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina in Hilton Head.  The award also brought significant local press to Prather’s work, as she was featured in Beaufort’s Island Packet and recognized by local community leaders. Honor a traditional artist or traditional arts advocate from your community with a nomination by Dec. 16. Find the nomination instructions online or contact Doug Peach, (803) 734-8764. The Folk Heritage Awards are named for the late Rep. Jean Laney Harris, who was an outspoken advocate for South Carolina's arts and cultural resources. The South Carolina Arts Commission partners with the University of South Carolina's McKissick Museum to administer the awards, which will be presented in May at the Statehouse. Aunt Pearlie Sue and the Gullah Kinfolk’s annual Christmas performance takes place Friday, Dec. 5 at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort Performing Arts Center.  Ticket information is available online.

by Doug Peach

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.

Oconee County quilter brings lifelong lessons to her art

CENTRAL, S.C.— Anna Willis' knuckles are swollen, and her fingers remain curved no matter how much she tries to straighten them. "I have had arthritis a long time," she said. "As long as I can remember."
Yet, she still works with those fingers. The artwork they produce still makes it into galleries and museums. Anna Willis is a quilter, and has been since she was a child. Her mother first taught her to sew when she was 5. Willis was a young lady, in the 1940s, when she completed her first quilt by herself. She still has it, all these years later. "It's a sunshine and shadow pattern," Willis said. "I have never been able to part with it." Two folding tables pushed together dominate her living room in her small brick home in Central. On it is a sewing machine. All around it, and underneath it, are sacks of material. Small drawers hold spools of thread of every color. One couch is stacked with folded quilts. Some of the quilts are large enough to cover a queen-size bed. Others are made for babies or for hanging on the wall. Some are decorated with beadwork and hand-sewn patchwork. All have been made by Willis. Quilting is her art. Her work is on display at The Arts Center of Clemson and is part of the Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail, a series of wooden, painted quilt squares that are mounted on public buildings, tourist sites and homes in the Upstate. The squares are a form of public art, meant to generate tourism. "This is what I do now, when I take a notion," Willis said. "As soon as I retired, I went right into quilting. I don't have anybody here. I had to find something to do." She has been a widow since the 1960s. Her only child, an adopted son, died last year. Her quilts keep her busy. She recently worked on a king-size Christmas quilt, one she meant to finish in time for the holidays, but the schedule was delayed when she came down with a cold. Some of her creations will take a couple of months to make. This king-size cover will take three months. She has taught others her art at local elementary schools, community centers and at Tri-County Technical College. Willis was raised in Seneca, near the Oconee County Training School. Then, flour sacks, salt sacks and feed sacks were used to put quilts together. Her mother had a large quilt frame that was held up with ropes at the ceiling. She would lower it in the morning and work on quilts until dinner time, Willis said. "We didn't have much," Willis said. "Mama made quilts, and I had to help her. Mama could make anything she wanted. Everything I knew about sewing, knitting and crocheting, I learned from her." That started a lifetime of working with fabric and sewing for Willis. She worked for 15 years at Gallant Belk on Seneca. But the longest span of her career was spent in a mill, sewing collars on blouses. About 23 years ago, she retired. "The doctor made me stop working because of my heart," she said. Her health is not what it once was. Those fingers will ache sometimes, and her arthritis will keep her awake all evening if her joints become too cold. But many days, Willis is still here, sitting at this table, working on her art.

FOLKfabulous – celebrating 25 years of the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award

McKissick Museum will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards with FOLKfabulous, a folk heritage festival taking place April 27 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the University of South Carolina's historic horseshoe. The event features live music, dance, and storytelling; demonstrations; hands-on art-making activities; and traditional South Carolina foodways. This event is free and open to the public. Performers

  • Martha Benn MacDonald, Highland fling dance, Scottish balladry (Rock Hill)
  • Springfield Baptist Singing Convention, shape note singing (Greenwood)
  • John Fowler, storytelling (Boiling Springs)
  • Roffie Griggs, bluegrass music (Bishopville)
  • Lena Allen Davis, shape note singing (Anderson)
  • Freddie Vanderford, blues (Union)
  • Ricky McDuffie & Family, gospel quartet (Bennettsville)
  • Eastern Band of Cherokee Tribe
  • M.J. (Malcolm James) Holden – luthier (Heath Springs)
  • Alejandra Tamayo – crochet/cross stitch/knitting (Trenton)
  • Quilters of South Carolina quilting demonstrations (Columbia)
  • Paul Moore, Congaree potter (Columbia)
FOLKfabulous is sponsored in part by the Humanities CouncilSC and the National Endowment for the Arts. McKissick Museum is located on the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe between Sumter, Bull, Pendleton, and Greene streets. For more information please call (803) 777-7251 or visit the website. Folkfabulous Via: McKissick Museum  

Artist and advocate to receive Folk Heritage Awards

The South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina announce John Thomas Fowler and R. Stanley Woodward as the 2013 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award recipients. The S.C. State Legislature will present the awards upon adjournment in the House Chamber, midday on May 2 at the Statehouse. John Thomas FowlerFowler, of Boiling Springs, is being honored as a master musician, performer and storyteller. For more than 30 years, he has worked to keep Appalachian culture alive by sharing the music traditions and stories of his heritage. Woodward, a documentary film maker from Greenville, is being honored for 40 years of advocating for and bringing recognition to South Carolina folk artists and traditions, particularly those associated with foodways and music. Following the Statehouse ceremony, a reception will be held at the Capstone House on the campus of the University of South Carolina. This informal event gives supporters and the Stan Woodwardgeneral public the opportunity to celebrate the recipients’ artistic skills and lifetime commitment to the preservation and promotion of traditions rooted in place and community. The reception will take place in the Capstone Campus Room on the first floor. The public is invited to the ceremony and the reception. The Folk Heritage Award is named for the late Jean Laney Harris, an ardent supporter of the state's cultural heritage. The award was created by the legislature in 1987 to recognize lifetime achievement in the folk arts. The artistic traditions represented by the award are significant because they have endured, often for hundreds of years. For more information about the awards ceremony or reception, contact Saddler Taylor, McKissick Museum, at (803) 777-7251 or Rusty Sox, S.C. Arts Commission, at (803) 734-8899. Also visit the McKissick Museum website or the South Carolina Arts Commission website.    

Ashley Carder preserves old-time music legacy

Fiddler Ashley Carder, a 2012 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award recipient, was featured in an article in The State on Feb. 17: "The jam session in the back room at Bill’s Pickin’ Parlor rolls on into the night, local bluegrass veterans and relative novices alike feeding off the fiddle player with the engaging smile and impeccable playing style. “Play that waltz that sounds like taaaa-ta, ta-ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta-ta,” says Hershel Wise, whose 80-year-old fingers still can play the notes on his mandolin though his mind can’t recall the tune’s title. Ashley Carder considers the request for a second, then his bow takes off on the staccato notes of “The Westphalia Waltz.” The other musicians — Wise, two more fiddle players, three guitar players and a stand-up bass plucker — follow Carder’s lead even if they don’t know the tune well or at all. It’s impossible to estimate the number of fiddle tunes — from obscure old-time music to bluegrass standards — filed away in Carder’s head. He’s been stowing them away for decades as he learned from any old-time fiddle player who would show him the way. And as those old-timers have passed away, Carder felt a responsibility to preserve their legacy whether in sessions like the Friday night jams at Bill’s, in the multiple bands he plays with or in the recordings he has compiled through the years. Last year, Carder was honored with a Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award by the S.C. Arts Commission for his efforts to preserve the music of his predecessors. But he’s more of a rewards guy than an awards guy. He loves watching his mentors’ family members tear up when they hear the preserved songs or seeing novice fiddlers light up as they figure out how to play an old tune. His most recent project chronicles the career of one of his mentors — Pappy Sherrill. A legend in bluegrass/country circles dating back to the 1920s, Sherrill gained fame in South Carolina as the fiddler player in The Hired Hands." Read the complete article. Via: The State [caption id="attachment_4291" align="alignnone" width="600"]Ashely Carder 2012 Folk Heritage Awards Ashley Carder performs at the Statehouse after receiving the 2012 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award[/caption]

Entries sought for 7th Annual African American Fiber Art Exhibition

African-American art quilt artists in the United States, Mexico, and Canada, age 18 and up, are invited to participate in an African American Fiber Art Exhibition, Once Upon a Quilt: Welcome to My Quilted Story Book. The seventh annual juried exhibition is presented as a component of the annual North Charleston Arts Festival, to be held May 3-11, 2013. A $25 entry fee allows artists to submit up to two entries; limit four entries per applicant. Applications may be downloaded from the Applications page at NorthCharlestonArtsFest.com. Deadline for submissions is Friday, March 15, 2013. Emerging quilt artists under the age of 18 may submit quilts for Our Next Generation, a parallel exhibition that will be on display at the Unity Church of Charleston. Organized and presented by the City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Department, and curated by award winning and nationally exhibiting textile artist, Torreah “Cookie” Washington, Once Upon a Quilt offers African-American art quilters a showcase to display their original and innovative designs. This year’s show will feature art quilts inspired by beloved stories, whether they begin with, “Once upon a time…,” “In a galaxy far, far away…,” or “In the land that time forgot…” Artists’ muse may be a favorite bedtime story, Aesop’s fable, Gullah ghost story, young adult fiction, or an inspiring biography of an admired s/hero. Artists are asked to reach back onto the storybook shelf of their memory and create an original art quilt that tells a story that has encouraged, inspired, comforted or enchanted. The exhibition will be on display April 30-June 20, 2013, at North Charleston City Hall, with a public reception schedule for Thursday, May 9, 2013, from 6 - 8 p.m. Following the close of the show, up to 30 works will be selected to tour the state through the South Carolina State Museum’s 2013/2014 Traveling Exhibitions Program. Sites across South Carolina may request the exhibit to tour in their facilities, thus providing additional exposure for the selected artists. For more information, contact the North Charleston Cultural Arts Department at (843)740-5854, email culturalarts@northcharleston.org, or visit NorthCharlestonArtsFest.com. Via: North Charleston Arts Festival [caption id="attachment_3792" align="alignleft" width="600"] "Under the Harlem River," fiber art by Kim Hall[/caption]

African drummer inspires Spartanburg students

[caption id="attachment_2980" align="aligncenter" width="680"]Drummer Moussa Bolokada Conde at Pine Street Elementary School Moussa Bolokada Conde, a world renowned drummer and teacher, plays  a goblet-shaped African hand drum called a djembe as he leads a group of students and teachers in a performance at Pine Street Elementary School in Spartanburg.  Photo by Michael Justus, Spartanburg Herald-Journal.[/caption] Renowned djembe player Moussa Bolokada Conde joined the fourth-grade drumming club at Spartanburg's Pine Street Elementary School for a quick performance and lesson last fall. His visit was the result of an invitation by the school’s African drumming instructor, Andrew Moore. As a visiting artist, master drummer Conde has been leading the club of fourth-graders since shortly after the school year began. The club was funded through grants, including an Arts Curricular Innovation Grant from the S.C. State Department of Education, an Arts in Basic Curriculum Advancement Grant from the S.C. Arts Commission and a McDonald’s Creative Kids Grant.  A native of West Africa, Conde has spent the past few years performing and teaching in the United States and has plans to settle in Greenville, S.C. “I think they are learning to work together,” Moore said of his young musicians. “They have to listen to play the music well. And when they play the music well, it makes them so happy.” “He’s come a long way to come and play with us,” said fourth-grader and drumming club member Drew Chynoweth, 9. “I’ve always wanted to be a drummer.” Pine Street recently was recognized by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as a recipient of its National Schools of Distinction in Arts Education Award for the 2012-2013 school year. The award recognizes successful arts programs and the integration of the arts as an essential aspect of the school curriculum. The drumming club, and Conde’s visit, are part of Pine Street’s arts infusion focus. Read more at GoUpstate.com. Via Spartanburg Herald-Journal

South Arts offering traditional arts webinar series

Registration is now open for the 2013 South Arts traditional arts webinar series. These webinars are designed for folklife organizations, folklorists, traditional arts advocates, community scholars and other interested participants. The fee is $20 per webinar or $100 for all six webinars for participants residing in these states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. For participants outside of this nine-state region, the cost per webinar is $25 or $125 for all six webinars. Webinar schedule Jan. 24 Out of the Box: Developing Online Radio for Cultural Heritage Organizations Jan. 31 Using Folklore for Community Action< Feb. 7 Folk on the Go - Engaging via Mobile Devices Feb. 14 Hidden in Plain Sight: Digital Folk Arts Education Resources Feb. 21 Intellectual Property in the Digital Age Feb. 28 The New Book Publishing: Democracy, Self Publishing and Print-on-Demand All webinars begin at 10:30 a.m. Visit South Arts' website for details and registration information. Via: South Arts