Folklore Award Winners Selected
Winners of annual awards that recognize significant achievement in the field and practice of folklore have been announced by the North Carolina Folklore Society, which celebrates its 100th year anniversary this year. The awards will be presented on Saturday, Sep. 28, as part of a day-long festival in Carrboro.
The awards continue a long tradition of recognizing groups and individuals who document, preserve and celebrate the rich cultural tapestry in North Carolina, home to one of the oldest and most vibrant communities of traditional arts and folklife in the nation. For 2013, the Society has selected three award recipients: Barbara Garrity-Blake, Christine Wai and the Karen New Year Planning Committee, and Chester McMillian.
Barbara Garrity-Blake and Coastal Folk Traditions
Barbara Garrity-Blake of Glouster in Carteret County has been recognized for being a creative, imaginative and innovative folklorist. For more than 25 years, she has been a leader in collecting, preserving, promoting and writing about N.C. coastal folk traditions, particularly the traditions of the state’s coastal fishing villages. She is widely known for her writings, music and leadership.
Her writings have explored the culture and working world of commercial fishing. In addition to essays and articles, she is author of “The Fish Factory” about the American Menhaden industry and co-author of “Fish House Opera,” a non-fiction account of N.C. fishing villages told in the voices of commercial fishermen. Her advocacy and knowledge has benefited several state boards, including her membership on the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission from 1999 to 2007.
She organized “Raising the Story of Menhaden Fishing,” an oral history research project with the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center in Harkers Island. In addition, she is preparing “The Road at the Water’s Edge” for UNC Press with an anticipated publication by 2015.
Garrity-Blake is a highly accomplished bassist and frottoir (percussion instrument used in zydeco music) player. She also plays guitar and sings in musical productions such as “Lost Girls.” In addition, she and her husband Bryan are co-leaders of Unknown Tongues, a highly spirited Down East Cajun and acoustic-roots band that has appeared at state parks and festivals, including the N.C. Seafood Festival. The two also have founded Wild Caught, a summer festival that promotes N.C. seafood and those who catch, market and distribute it.
She has been selected to receive the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award.
Karen Culture Celebration
Many refugees have fled persecution in Burma (also known as Myanmar), and almost 6,000 have resettled in North Carolina. The Karen (the largest ethnic minority in Burma) have been particularly resilient for steadfastly holding on to cultural traditions in their new homeland.
Christine Wai, a member of the Karen refugee community in Orange County, has been particularly instrumental in preserving Karen culture since she resettled in Carrboro in 1999. Born in a refugee camp where she lived until she was 13, Wai has been an important leader in observing and celebrating a holiday that many Karen refugees consider their most important – the Karen New Year.
Wai and the Karen New Year Planning Committee have unified several refugee segments into a distinct ethnic culture by organizing a Karen New Year celebration annually and scheduling it on an alternating basis in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Raleigh and High Point. In addition to ethnic foods, the event includes speakers and performers of traditional Karen dances and songs.
By raising awareness throughout North Carolina of the Karen culture and making sure that all Karen are able to celebrate their most important holiday, Wai and the committee are being honored with the Community Traditions Award by the N.C. Folklore Society.
Chester McMillian and Old Time Music
Chester McMillian of Mount Airy is being honored for his dedicated commitment over almost half a century to preserve and pass on the old time music traditions of northwestern North Carolina.
His performing and recording work has left an indelible mark on the old time music genre, and he has significantly influenced younger players as a mentor and teacher. In addition to his work as a performer, McMillian has been invaluable in documenting and recording old time music traditions.
An active partner with the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, McMillian has played countless programs and concerts and has helped build the museum’s collection of old time music. He has been instrumental in locating and restoring instruments with significant regional connections.
Respected nationally in old time and bluegrass circles as a musician of rare drive, matchless rhythm and singular creativity within a tradition, McMillian is sought out at fiddlers’ conventions because he is a true representative of a living, breathing and evolving tradition. At 70 years of age, McMillian is an encyclopedia of old time music, lore and biography.
Because of McMillian’s outstanding contribution to regional folklife, he is being honored with a Brown-Hudson Folklore Award.
Society and Awards
For the past century, the North Carolina Folklore Society has promoted the appreciation and study of our state’s folklife. The society supports folklore practitioners and professionals and honors our state’s culture through publications and awards, which include the Brown-Hudson Award and the Community Traditions Award.
The Brown-Hudson Award recognizes individuals who make significant contributions to the transmission, appreciation and observance of traditional culture and folklife in North Carolina. Past winners include artists, scholars, documentarians and activists such as Vollis Simpson, Joe Thompson, Doc and Merle Watson, Etta Baker, Archie Green, Ray Hicks,, Adolph Dial and Alice Gerrard. The award was created in 1970 in memory of Frank C. Brown of Duke University, a prolific documenter of N.C. folklife, and Arthur Palmer Hudson, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and founder of the Society’s Journal.
The Community Traditions Award recognizes organizations and groups who engage in or support folklife and traditional culture in North Carolina. Presented annually since 1992, this award has honored community organizations, guilds, event organizers and singing groups such as Green Grass Cloggers, Alexander County First Sunday Singing Convention, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Music Maker Relief Foundation, The Brasstown Carvers and El Pueblo Inc.
The 2013 award winners will be honored on Saturday, Sep. 28, at a special ceremony at 6 p.m. in The ArtsCenter in Carrboro. Immediately before the ceremony, a reception at 4:30 will honor the new as well as all previous award winners of the Society. The ceremony and reception are part of the day-long festival throughout Carrboro from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. These events are free and open to the public.
The new winners represent the continuing legacy of folklorists who serve our communities through policy building, legal advocacy, conflict resolution, economic development, exhibit design and curatorship, academic research, multi-media production and classroom curriculum development.
The North Carolina Folklore Society grants two annual awards that recognize a lifetime of work in the field and practice of folklore.
The Brown Hudson Award:
The NCFS presents the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award to persons who have in special ways contributed to the appreciation, continuation, or study of North Carolina folk traditions. The Brown-Hudson Folklore Award was established in 1970 to honor two distinguished folklorists and officers of the North Carolina Folklore Society, Frank C. Brown of Duke University and Arthur Palmer Hudson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Both had served as the Society’s Secretary-Treasurer, Dr. Brown from 1913 to 1944 and Dr. Hudson from 1945 to 1966. Dr. Hudson was also the longtime editor of North Carolina Folklore, directing the publication from its inception as a recurring journal in 1954 until his retirement in 1966.
For a complete listing of previous Brown Hudson Award Recipients click here.
The Community Traditions Award:
In 1992 the NC Folklore Society gave out the first of its Community Traditions Awards. This award honors the organizations and groups who engage in or support folklife and traditional culture in North Carolina. Community Traditions Awards have been awarded to community organizations, guilds, event organizers and singing groups such as The Alexander County First Sunday Singing Convention, The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Music Maker Relief Foundation, The Brasstown Carvers, and El Pueblo Inc.
For a complete listing of previous Community Traditions Award Recipients click here.
Mary Mintz, Brown-Hudson Award Recipient
Photograph © Chris Fowler