USC Hosts Shared Traditions — Sacred Music in the South

Gullah Kinfolk
Gullah Kinfolk

The University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum will host a music symposium entitled Shared Traditions: Sacred Music in the South on February 26th and February 27th, 2016. 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 & greet with Gullah storyteller Anita Singleton-Prather at 3:30pm on Friday, February 26th 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 also include a presentation at 6:30pm 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 Anita Singleton-Prather and The Gullah Kinfolk at 7:00pm.
Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia will host all program events on Saturday, February 27th. A detailed schedule of events is included with this press release. The day will begin with a panel presentation entitled “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, Dr. Cynthia Schmidt, will screen The Language You Cry In, a film based on her research chronicling an amazing scholarly detective reaching across hundreds of years and thousands of miles, from 18th century Sierra Leone to the Gullah people of present-day Georgia. 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.
For more information, visit or call Saddler Taylor at 803-777-3714. This program is funded in part by the Humanities CouncilSC and the South Carolina Arts Commission.

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The Stone Necklace Sparks Multidisciplinary Arts Events



In celebration of the 2016 One Book, One Community selection, The Stone Necklace by Carla Damron (USC Press, 2016) a number of multi-disciplinary arts events are planned to more fully enjoy the community reading experience, including a three-person photography exhibit opening on Thursday, February 4th with a panel presentation by the participating photographers. In the weeks to come additional programs involving theatre arts and music, all inspired by a reading of The Stone Necklace, are also planned.

Set against the backdrop of contemporary Columbia, South Carolina, The Stone Necklace braids together the stories of a grieving widow, a struggling nurse, a young mother, and a homeless madman, reminding us of the empowering and surprising ways in which our lives touch one another and through which, together, we recover from even the greatest of losses. Bestselling and award-winning author Mary Alice Monroe praises The Stone Necklace as “a celebration of the transformative power of shared experiences and of the connections that bind us.”


Cemetery by Thomas Hammond
Cemetery by Thomas Hammond


Off Page – Photography: Artists Respond to The Stone Necklace will open on the Tapp’s Arts Center on Thursday, February 4th as part of the First Thursday celebration of Columbia arts. Columbia photographers Thomas Hammond, Robert Coffey, and Kristine Hartvigsen, having read advanced copies of the novel, will show the work they created in response. A brief panel presentation discussing the exhibit will take place at 7 pm in the Fountain Room downstairs at Tapp’s. Free.


Vicky Saye Henderson
Vicky Saye Henderson


Off Page – On Stage: Imrov with Vicky Saye Henderson will take place on Thursday, February 11th at 7 pm in the Skyline Room of Tapp’s Arts Center.  In a program created by local theatre artist and educator Vicky Saye Henderson based in part on Damron’s novel, Henderson will lead an improvisation workshop and demonstration.  Free.


Cully Salehi and Todd Mathis
Cully Salehi and Todd Mathis

Off Page – Music: A Musical Response to The Stone Necklace featuring original work created by Todd Mathis and Cully Salehi in response to the novel The Stone Necklace will take place on Saturday, February 20th at 7 pm at the Deckle Edge Literary Festival Saturday Night Reception at Main Street Agape. Tickets available via Brown Paper Tickets.

The above events are presented via a partnership between One Book, One Columbia, One Columbia for Arts and History, Jasper Magazine, The University of South Carolina Press, and Richland Library.

About the Artists


South Carolinian Carla Damron is a fiction writer, clinical social worker, and author of the Caleb Knowles mystery novels Keeping Silent, Spider Blue, and Death in Zooville in which she explores addiction, homelessness, and other social issues. Her short stories have appeared in Fall Lines, Six Minute Magazine, Melusine, In Posse Review,and other journals. Named the 2014 South Carolina Social Worker of the Year, Damron holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Queens University and a master’s degree in social work from the University of South Carolina.

Thomas Hammond is a freelance photojournalist from Columbia, South Carolina specializing in human interest, political, and cultural stories from the heart of the American South to the Middle East and wherever else the road takes him. In 2015, he won a South Carolina Press Association award for his work documenting the war and humanitarian crisis in and around Syria. More recently, he’s covered local stories such as the removal of the Confederate flag, the devastation of the recent floods, and the evolution of the local music scene.

Born in San Francisco, California, Kristine Hartvigsen earned a bachelor’s degree in education and completed graduate studies in journalism at the University of South Carolina. She began her journalism career in the mid-1980s at The State and The Columbia Record newspapers. She is a past editor of South Carolina Business and Lake Murray-Columbia magazines as well as a past associate editor of Jasper magazine. Her photography has been published in:  Sandlapper, South Carolina Business Monthly, Lake Murray-Columbia, Columbia Business Monthly, and Jasper magazines; in The State, the Free-Times, the Myrtle Beach Sun News, Lowcountry Life, and the Georgetown Times newspapers; as well as in print and online publications of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina, and the South Carolina Education Association. In 2012, Muddy Ford Press published her first poetry collection, To the Wren Nesting.

Vicky Saye Henderson is a performer and teaching artist, whose projects include live stage, film, TV, voice-overs and cabaret. On staff at Trustus Theatre, she serves as Director of Education and Professional Development.  She is also a member of Trustus’ residential performing ensemble, appearing most recently in The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical. She is the recipient of the SC Arts Commission’s 2015 Individual Artist Fellowship in Acting and was named the 2013 Jasper Artist of the Year in Theatre. She received her improv training in Orlando, FL (KVG Studios) and is co-director of Trustus’ Improv and Sketch Comedy master track Apprentice Company program. Vicky recently provided vocal narration for USC Press’ audiobook of Carla Damron’s novel, The Stone Necklace. 

For the past 15 years, Todd Mathis has been a solid fixture of the South Carolina music scene, and well beyond, playing in a number of groups from the indie soul of Betty Sneetch to the Brit-tinged rock of Boxing Day (Universal/Republic), fronting the alt-country turned rock of American Gun, crafting the soundscapes of Interruptions of the Mind, and releasing a few solo albums along the way.

Cully Salehi, a graduate of North Carolina School of the Arts, began her journey in music as an orchestral violist. After eight years of classical playing she began exploring the worlds of improvisation, jazz, and rock. Since contributing viola and keys to North Carolina Indie rock group Silver Hill Mine, she has performed several seasons with Columbia Community Orchestra and Lake Murray Symphony Orchestra. She currently enjoys playing local venues, growing in her own songwriting, and collaborating on recording projects at Jangly Records.


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REVIEW: Appropriate at Trustus Theatre

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By: Kyle Petersen

Appropriate, the new play Trustus Theatre opened this past Friday and runs through February 13th, is a curious thing. Both deeply conventional in its family drama premise and deeply subversive in its side-eye examination of the only partly-obscured racist foundations of that disintegrating family, the story often feels like a bold bid by Obie-winning wunderkind playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins to bind a specific thread of American theatre with a sharp and insightful take on what might be called a specific kind of American racism.

Set in the living room of a former plantation home that the deceased patriarch of the LaFayette family was futilely attempting to turn into a bed-and-breakfast, the play circles around the three offspring and their families during a roughly 36-hour period in which they convene to auction off and settle the remainder of the estate. Amid predictable, even cliché, sibling squabbles about responsibilities, money, and a hazy shared history, the reality of their father’s questionable past and possible involvement in the darkest aspects of our country’s racial history is revealed through a variety of artifacts uncovered throughout the house.

Despite that, the play is barely brushed with any discussion of race—it is the absence of that discussion and understanding that instead leads to emotional focal points, particularly as characters alternate between a desire to “use” or exploit the power of the artifacts for monetary gain or treat them with an alien sense of distance, as if they have nothing to do with their own history and the very reason they are who, where, and what they are.

That this is played for unsettling laughs more than queasy blanches is as much a token to Trustus’s production and Jim O’Conner’s direction as Jacob-Jenkin’s writing. With characters that are constantly teetering on the edge of stock archetypes, both Trustus Main Stage newcomers, as well as veterans, shine. Burke McLain as Frank/Franz Lafayette, the youngest sibling, and Jennifer Webb as his much-younger girlfriend River Rayner turn in as rich and nuanced performances as their characters allow, with the former tackling the nervous narcissism and awkward earnestness of a recovering alcoholic with jittery energy and the latter latching on to a surprising strength somewhat hidden by the new age hippie smarm on the surface. G. Scott Wild delivers another predictably assured performance of a harried white man accustomed to his own privilege as the eldest son Bo LaFayette, as does Chloe Rabinowitz as Bo’s wife Rachel Kramer-Lafayette. Rachel could have easily fallen prey to the stereotype of the cultured urban Jew, but Rabinowitz gives her a warm presence and relative grace in even the play’s most heated moments. And Erica Tobolski practically disappears into middle child Toni Lafayette, a put-upon divorcee whose life and family are crumbling around her. Toni’s role veers nearest to antagonist in this play, which, despite the degree to which Jacobs-Jenkin’s toys with archetypes here, never fully emerges.

That being said, the persistent mismatch of age to character weakens the execution to a certain extent, particularly in moments when the script depends heavily upon it. The two central younger characters here, Toni’s son Rhys Thurston, played by Trustus Apprentice Brice Hall, and Bo’s daughter Cassidy (Rebecca Shrom) in particular feel a bit odd, given that Cassidy is supposed to be an insouciant young teen and Rhys her senior by a few years. Shrom conveys all of the childish lack of sophistication and imperious adolescent angst that the character requires, but it’s still a bit jarring next to Hall’s more authentic youthful ungainliness. The same problem crops up to a lesser extent between Frank and River, who are supposed to look twenty years apart but seem fairly close in age, making Frank’s sexual improprieties in the past a bit more confusing. Even the relative ages of Bo and Rachel can throw the timeline into some confusion.

The production overall, though, is quite strong. The play’s demand on scenic and sound design are deceptively tricky, particularly given the thematic heft that the unseen cicadas and the structural deficiencies of the house itself have on the production as a whole. Their role in undergirding the weight of place and history in lieu of the character’s direct confrontation with those issues is paramount, and Baxter Engle (sound design) and Heather Hawfield (scene design) do a superb job in delivering some of the most genuinely devastating moments in a play that more often produces ambivalence to the characters themselves.

In the end, it is Jacobs-Jenkins and his dazzling pen that will dominate how you feel about Appropriate. On technical and conceptual levels his accomplishments are difficult to deny, but there’s a countervailing corollary to any play so invested in both its writerly nature and high-concept premise. The sense of constraint that comes from working from semi-stock characters, even as they become imbued with a degree of nuance by both script and actor, might have some theatregoers leaving with some sense of hollow artifice to the whole endeavor. Even if that is the case, though, the production does without qualification force an uneasy confrontation with the particular ways white America does, and doesn’t, consider the full impact of our country’s racial history on both moments large and small, personal and societal. In a time when the Black Lives Matter movement struggles to get our country to confront the full measure of its sins past and present, and in the midst of a presidential election cycle which suggests that we not only seek to forget our legacy but that we’re still very much embroiled in a modern-day xenophobia, these confrontations are very much worth having.

*Update: We regret that we failed to note that this review was based on a preview performance of the production.

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