Religion

Four St. Helena soloists featured on Gullah spirituals CD

"Gullah: The Voice of an Island," a CD featuring four St. Helena Island residents, will be released during a celebration at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Bethesda Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, 36 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, St. Helena.
"Gullah: The Voice of an Island," a CD featuring four St. Helena Island residents, will be released during a celebration at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Bethesda Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, 36 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, St. Helena. Submitted photo

Four St. Helena Island residents will be featured on a CD of Gullah spirituals being released Friday.

Minnie Gracie Gadson, James Garfield Smalls, Rosa Murray and Joseph Murray perform solos on "Gullah: The Voice of an Island," the first in a multi-phase project to document and preserve the Gullah culture, according to Alli Crandell of Coastal Carolina University.

Crandell is the digital content coordinator for The Athenaeum Press, a student-based publishing lab created in 2013. History, music, digital media, English, photography and design students worked on the CD with Coastal Carolina and Norfolk State University faculty, according to a news release.

Gullah people are descendants of slaves who lived in the Lowcountry and on the Sea Islands and developed a unique language and culture.

Eric Crawford, master of music program coordinator at Norfolk State, and Matt White, assistant professor of music trumpet and jazz at Coastal Carolina, proposed the project, Crandell said. They provided 80 hours of recordings, and students recorded another 20 hours on St. Helena, she said.

They used a studio-quality mobile recording unit to record the performers in their homes, Crandell said.

"We hand over the projects to the students," she said. "So most everything ... is done by students."

All the performers are song leaders in area churches who were born on St. Helena and in Beaufort, and they represent the Gullah culture's spiritual heritage of music, she said. Many of those traditions began in praise houses, where slaves were free to worship.

"They have kept a lot of those traditions of the praise house alive," Crandell said.

Crandell said the next phase of the project is to spend about a year building partnerships with people and organizations in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which stretches from Wilmington, N.C., to Jacksonville, Fla. A focus will be placed on Horry and Georgetown counties in South Carolina.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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