For 2023, the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards will be presented by the General Assembly to honor a Gullah Geechee chef and a gospel singer whose talents keep the state’s traditional art forms alive.

The two practicing artists and are to be recognized as ambassadors of traditions significant to communities throughout the state. Their traditions embody folklife’s dynamic, multigenerational nature and the way it fuses artistic and utilitarian ideals. The Folk Heritage Awards are managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission and the University of South Carolina McKissick Museum.

The 2023 recipients are:

• Emily Meggett - Artist, Gullah Geechee Chef (Edisto Island)

• Hampton Rembert - Artist, Gospel Singing (Bishopville)

The Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award is named for the late State Rep. Jean Laney Harris of Cheraw, respected as an outspoken advocate and ardent supporter of the arts and cultural resources of the state. In the fall, nominations are sought from citizens across the state to recognize exemplary artistic achievement/advocacy. An independent advisory panel appointed by the lieutenant governor and president of the South Carolina Senate select the recipients, who must be living and practicing in the state. Up to four artists or organizations and one advocate may receive awards each year.

As McKissick Museum Executive Director Jane Przybysz notes, “These artists are masters of longstanding South Carolina traditions. The meals that Emily Meggett prepares daily ensure that the culinary know-how of her Gullah Geechee kin gets passed along to and nurtures the next generation. Hampton Rembert’s gospel singing is a point of community pride and inspiration to all who have been touched by a music tradition that uplifts the human spirit, particularly in times of adversity. We thank them for their dedication to keeping alive the traditions that have become our shared South Carolina inheritance.”

“The recipients of this year’s Folk Heritage Awards embody South Carolina’s rich artistic traditions and our broad diversity as a people and society,” South Carolina Arts Commission Executive Director David Platts said. “Their crafts connect our modern society to, and honor, South Carolina’s cultural past. They remain vibrant parts of rich tapestries that weave together people and communities across the Palmetto State today. We are all grateful for the way these artists enrich the lives of all South Carolinians.”

Recipients of the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage and South Carolina Governor’s Awards for the Arts Awards are honored during a broadcast presentation of the South Carolina Arts Awards, expected to air on South Carolina ETV this May at a date and time to be announced later. South Carolina First Lady Peggy McMaster will join Platts and Przybysz to honor award recipients.

About the 2023 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award Recipients

Gullah Geechee chef Emily H. Meggett, known by many as “M.P.,” was born in 1932 on Edisto Island, a place she calls “heaven on earth.” Meggett grew up on her grandparents’ farm, where they grew a wide variety of vegetables and kept livestock for butchering. Meggett learned traditional Gullah Geechee dishes standing next to her grandmother using ingredients grown on the farm. She honed her skills in the kitchen of wealthy white family’s Edisto Island house. Miss Julia, the Gullah head chef, had a mantra of “You do it right or you do it over.” Anything that wasn’t up to Ms. Julia’s standards went straight to the trash. Meggett married Edisto native Jessie Meggett and they built a four-room home on one acre of land for their 11 children. From there, she cooked for everyone in her family and, as she recalls, likely more than a hundred area children. Meggett’s family and friends long encouraged her to share her recipes in a cookbook, a novel concept to someone who never used one herself. She eventually relented, and a friend visited her daily to work on one recipe at a time. In April of 2022, Gullah Geechee Home Cooking was published and quickly became a New York Times bestseller. Among Meggett’s accolades is the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award from President Joe Biden. To this day, she wakes around two in the morning with inspiration of what to cook that day for all comers. When the door to her kitchen is open, you know you’ll be fed—no money needed, and no questions asked.

Raised on a sharecropper farm in Bishopville, 85-year-old Hampton Rembert has been singing gospel from a very young age. He learned with his family who would sing on Sundays and during family reunions. When he and 10 living siblings were younger, they formed a gospel choir of up to 21 members at one point that would sing at a different church every Sunday evening in Lee and Sumter counties. Rembert worked hard at his professions throughout his life. From working at his church to driving trucks through 28 states, and the lawn services he performs today, he always sang. Singing is one of his greatest joys and an experience that connects him to his family and his faith. His talent was threatened in 1998 with a prostate cancer diagnosis. Rembert had surgery in February, but one month after leaving the hospital, he was diagnosed with oral cancer and went back immediately for mouth and throat surgery. He knew that there was a possibility that he would never talk or sing again, a fear confirmed by his doctors. But Rembert credits the power of prayer from his friends and family for allowing him to testify at his church three months after surgery, and while that might be true, his attitude and tenacity played no small part. It has been 25 years since that diagnosis, and he still sings twice a month at his church and as often as he can with his siblings.

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