Beaufort County 98-year-old still sings the old Gullah spirituals

James Garfield Smalls, 98, pictured at his St. Helena Island home amongst his cattle, will be recognized by the South Carolina Arts Commission on Wednesday and awarded the 2018 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award. The award celebrates artists that practice art forms that have been kept through their families and communities and a commitment to keeping those traditions alive. Garfield is a singer of traditional Gullah spirituals - several of which he has authored himself.Deacon James Garfield Smalls is 98, but he’s still got a boombox inside that rumbles out spirituals he learned from his great-grandfather on St. Helena Island.

Spirituals are the biblical songs of hope that the enslaved sang, now considered the roots of jazz and blues and all of American music.

Smalls will be honored by the S.C. Arts Commission, the governor and state legislature at the State House in Columbia this Wednesday. He will be cited as one the most important active Gullah singers and cultural ambassadors. more

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