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Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards

Belton and Hilton Head Island artists named 2007 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award winners

March 30, 2007

Peggy Binette or Margaret Lamb
Phone: 803.777.5400; E-mail: peggy@gwm.sc.edu


The University of South Carolina's McKissick Museum and the South Carolina Arts Commission have announced the recipients of the 2007 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards.


This year's award winners are Louise Miller Cohen from Hilton Head Island for Gullah traditions and Alda Smith from Belton for traditional country music advocacy.


"Louise Cohen and Alda Smith were selected for their excellence in their respective folk art traditions and for maintaining a high level of artistic commitment to their craft and for having enriched the lives of people across the state through their talents and dedication," said Saddler Taylor, chief curator of folklife and research for the College of Arts and Sciences' McKissick Museum.


The Folk Heritage Award was created by the state legislature in 1987 to recognize lifetime achievement in traditional arts. The artistic traditions represented by the Folk Heritage Award are significant because they have endured, often for hundreds of years.

The award is named for the late Jean Laney Harris, an ardent supporter of the state's cultural heritage and a member of the House of Representatives, who co-chaired the Joint Legislative Committee on Cultural Affairs.


2007 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award Winners

Alda Smith, Folk Heritage Award WinnerAlda Smith, Belton
Traditional Country Music

Alda Smith has dedicated his life to preserving and performing the country music traditions that are part of the mill town culture of the South Carolina Piedmont. The youngest son of the late Ralph Smith, Alda Smith traces his regional musical heritage back to the mid-1800s. Born and raised in Greenville County, Smith has deep roots in Piedmont culture and has fostered a keen understanding of the musical genres that form traditional country music.


Smith's grandfather, Shelah Lafayette Laws (born 1878), taught Smith many of the songs that formed the foundation of modern country music. Among them were strong English ballads that immigrants had brought with them to the Appalachians and included "Sally Pretty Sally," "Drunkard's Lone Child" and "Charming Beauty Bright." Other songs, such as "Gee Wah Song," were examples of the complex blending of Native American traditions with those of English, Scottish and Eastern European settlers. Smith documented these musical traditions through recorded interviews and musical performances with his grandfather, relatives and friends.


As a musician, Smith began playing the Dobro, a modified acoustic guitar, and later played the pedal steel guitar with many groups in the Piedmont. His concerts ranged from hillbilly and gospel to pop and rock. He joined the Nashville Songwriters Association and began playing acoustic and bass guitars, composing and singing. His musical interests and repertoire are varied, but they are laden with the Upstate traditional music popular in the early 1990s.


As a fourth-generation musician, Smith works tirelessly to promote traditional Piedmont music, especially the old-time country music associated with the lap steel and Dobro instruments, through visits to schools, performances at festivals and presentations at conferences such as The Dobro and Lap Steel Convention.

Louise Miller Cohen, Folk Heritage Award WinnerLouise Miller Cohen, Hilton Head Island
Gullah Traditions

Louise Miller Cohen is a Hilton Head Island native whose island roots date back to the 1800s. Her family home still stands on property purchased by her great grandfather after the Civil War. Cohen who, grew up on Hilton Head Island during a time she calls "before the bridge," says she loved to hear relatives tell stories in the Gullah dialect and its many variations.


Today, she helps plan the annual Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration and perform at the annual event. Her repertoire includes Gullah stories, shouts and dances. It is one example of how Cohen has helped promote Gullah and its Hilton Head Island variation. Until recent years, there was little understanding of and appreciation for Gullah culture. Cohen and other sea island artists have worked to change that, sharing and celebrating Gullah culture with South Carolinians and others throughout the country and world. She helped establish the Hilton Head Island Gullah Museum, an organization devoted to preserving Gullah/Geechee culture, and she performs Gullah storytelling at churches, schools, festivals, colleges and conferences.


In addition to Cohen's artistic interests, which range from storytelling, dance and singing gospel and shouts to cooking Gullah cuisine, she has an extensive knowledge of medicinal plants native to the sea islands. A mother of four and grandmother of five, Cohen has passed on her love for Gullah culture to her family.

About the Folk Heritage Awards


For more information about the Folk Heritage Awards, please contact Laura Marcus Green (803-734-8764), South Carolina Folklife & Traditional Arts Program Director.