Poet Nikky Finney and Hootie and the Blowfish are ambassadors for South Carolina, using their success and celebrity status to draw attention to the benefits of the arts. Read more about these recipients of the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Awards for the Arts below, and find out more about all of the activities taking place as part of the South Carolina Arts Awards on May 11.
Nikky Finney was born in South Carolina, within listening distance of the sea. A child of activists, she came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements. At Talladega College, nurtured by Hale Woodruff’s Amistad murals, Finney began to understand the powerful synergy between art and history.
Finney has authored four books of poetry: On Wings Made of Gauze (1985); Rice (1995); The World Is Round (2003); and Head Off & Split (2011), which received the National Book Award for poetry in 2011. Finney’s electrifying acceptance speech prompted the ceremony’s emcee, actor John Lithgow, to proclaim, “That’s the best acceptance for anything I’ve ever heard in my life.” Head Off & Split was also selected as the 2015-2016 First Year Book by University of Maryland, College Park, providing an opportunity for students and faculty to delve into complex topics using a common text.
Finney writes extensively for journals, magazines and other publications. Her new work includes The Battle of and for the Black Face Boy, commissioned in 2013 by the University of Maryland and published in the fall 2015 issue of Oxford American, the first feature-length poem to be published in the literary magazine.
Finney’s other awards and honors include a PEN American Open Book Award for Rice in 1997, the Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council in 1999, induction into the Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent in 2002, and the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Booksellers Association for The World is Round in 2004,
In 2013, Finney returned to South Carolina as The John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters and Literature at the University of South Carolina after teaching creative writing at the University of Kentucky for 21 years.
Watch the video of Finney’s National Book Award acceptance speech.
Hootie and the Blowfish
Hootie and the Blowfish members Darius Rucker, Mark Bryan, Dean Felber and Jim “Soni” Sonefeld met when they were freshmen at the University of South Carolina. The band sold over 25 million records worldwide after their debut album Cracked Rear View hit the airwaves in 1994. At the end of the year, Cracked Rear View and the band won two Grammys, an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist, a Billboard Music Award for Album of the Year, a People’s Choice Award for Album of the Year and a People’s Choice Award for Best Selling Artist, a feat they duplicated in 1996. Cracked Rear View remains the 12th best-selling album in music business history.
The band grew up in an environment where education and music were important. Knowing how fortunate they were, they have a strong desire to improve education in their home state, funding programs that help provide a well-rounded and meaningful education based in practical studies and the arts.
The band established the Hootie and the Blowfish Foundation in 2000 through the Central Carolina Community Foundation. The majority of funding comes from the annual Hootie and the Blowfish Monday after the Masters Golf Tournament. The event, created to support education and music programs nationwide, has raised over $2 million to date for multiple causes. Support ranges from building community learning centers to outfitting school marching bands to simply providing educators with the tools they need to nurture children’s talents and help them succeed. In 2001, the band was involved in VH1’s Save the Music Foundation’s South Carolina kickoff, performing with students at the Statehouse to draw attention to improving the quality of music education in public schools.
In addition to Monday After the Masters, the foundation also puts on various events throughout the year, including Hootie’s Homegrown Roundup, a back to school program held in August each year to benefit the children of Charleston County School District. More than 12,000 students have benefited from the Roundup since the program’s inception in 2007.
Although band members have had successful solo careers, they still consider themselves a band, performing together to benefit the causes they believe in. They willingly use their celebrity status as successful artists to draw attention to and benefit South Carolina. Their leadership in providing support and funding for education, particularly music education, has had a significant impact on the state and beyond.