Page 1


A Charleston Legend The Legacy of Philip Simmons Lives On By Ade Ajani Ofunniyin It is virtually impossible to discuss or embrace Charleston’s architectural beauty without considering the contributions of the Holy City’s legendary blacksmith, a community icon whose work adorns nder different many of the city’s historical structures. circumstances,


Simmons might have chosen a profession other than blacksmithing.”

Philip Simmons, a renowned artist who hammered out ornamental ironwork for most of his long and eventful life, passed on in 2009, leaving behind a legacy destined to last for centuries.

Nearly 40 years ago, blacksmithing was considered to be a vanishing craft, a distant echo of a time remembered only in history books. Simmons helped save his longtime profession, gaining national popularity for his intricate and elaborate 18 native magazine | june/july 2011

ornamental ironwork among scholars, architects, private collectors, galleries, homeowners, city and state planners and public and private organizations. He made two official visits to Washington, D.C., first to demonstrate his talent at the Festival of American Folk Life and later as a White House guest of President Ronald Reagan. Simmons’ rise to national fame also was fueled by John Michael Vlach’s book, “The Work of Philip Simmons.” Under different circumstances, Simmons might have chosen a profession other than blacksmithing. Born on Daniel Island on June 9, 1912, as a youngster, he worked with his grandfather, who was a carpenter, learning basic lessons about attention to detail and the responsibility of a craftsman to his client, according to Vlach. At the age of 8, he left for Charleston to attend school but returned during the summer months to help out on the family farm. Had he not discovered the blacksmith shop run by Peter Simmons – no relation – he might have become a farmer or a fisherman. When he was 12, he began his apprenticeship with the elder blacksmith, who lived in Mount Pleasant, and, while attending Buist Elementary School, he learned to sketch the gates he would later fabricate. Philip Simmons demonstrated a clear sense of his roots visit

and his link to the Gullah cultural traditions of his native Daniel Island, as well as those he discovered in Charleston. He displayed pride in his heritage and enjoyed sharing tales about “the good old days” on the family farm and in early 20th century Charleston with the many tourists who visited his shop and the school groups he lectured. For his 1976 trip to the Smithsonian Institution, he designed and constructed his star and fish gate and displayed a wide range of his works. The gate was purchased by the Smithsonian and now is part of a traveling exhibit. Five years later, Vlach’s book helped launch Simmons’ career as a national folk artist. Since that time, Simmons has been featured in several documentary films and in newspaper and magazine articles, scholarly journals and tabletop publications. His photograph and biography have appeared on calendars and in advertisements for more than one commercial product, and several artists have used him as the subject of their work. He has been on the Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart television shows. Vlach’s book has been reprinted and author Mary E. Lyons has written a children’s book, “Catching the Fire: Philip Simmons, Blacksmith.” Simmons’ most noted works adorn the South Carolina State Museum, the city of Charleston Visitor Center and Charleston International Airport. A garden, funded by private donors, the city of Charleston, the state of South Carolina and the Philip Simmons Foundation, was established at his church in his honor, and a newly developed community on Daniel Island named a park in its commercial center after him. In addition, “The Dean of Blacksmithing” and “The Keeper of the Gate,” as he has been called, has been honored by national and local groups for his artistic achievements. Simmons’ shop, located behind his modest home, doesn’t look much different than a blacksmith’s shop in the early 20th century. Now run by his nephew, Carlton Simmons, and his cousin, Ronnie Pringle, it includes an anvil, a forge and a vise. The shop now owns several automated tools, such as an electric welder, a welder powered by a gasoline generator and electric saws, grinders and drills. Despite its efforts to modernize, the shop still exudes a feeling of nostalgia. It is a place people go to reminisce about days gone by. Simmons’ home now serves as a museum and gift shop. The blacksmith shop, operated by four generations of artisans, has been at its present location for almost 60 years. Although some customers are there for the services performed visit


by the craftsmen, many just want a nostalgic look at a piece of American folklore. Philip Simmons was “the patriarch, grandfather, articulator, facilitator and transformer of creative energy that extends across physical and conceptual space,” according to author Patrick McNaughton. His legacy lives on throughout his beloved city of Charleston, at the American College of the Building Arts, and in the hearts of countless people who remember his willingness to share his time and himself with others. june/july 2011 | native magazine 19


By: Kristen Wright-Matthews

We Can Count On Mr. Jazz F

or as long as I can remember, the people of the Lowcountry have counted on Jack McCray for the scoop on the local jazz scene. As a reporter and editor for The Post and Courier, a host on WSCI-FM Radio and now a freelance columnist, for more than 30 years he has provided us with timely, colorful descriptions of the art form that exemplifies Charleston’s bold musical heritage. A veritable warehouse of information, he is not simply a great writer; in the Holy City, the name Jack McCray is synonymous with jazz. Therefore, it is no surprise that JAC is the acronym for the Jazz Artists of Charleston, a nonprofit organization that cultivates and preserves the culture and history of the genre in Charleston.

McCray has played a key role in advancing Charleston’s music culture and bolstering its claim as a fountainhead of jazz. In 2003, he co-founded the Charleston Jazz Initiative, a multi-year research project documenting the AfricanAmerican jazz tradition in the Lowcountry and its diasporic movement throughout the United States and Europe. While New Orleans often has been called the birthplace of jazz, CJI research shows that the genre might have appeared earlier in Charleston, courtesy of the Jenkins Orphanage Band. The orphanage was established in 1891 by former slave- turnedminister Rev. Daniel J. Jenkins, while the band, formed in 1894, gained worldwide recognition with performances 28 native magazine | june/july 2011

throughout the United States and before the Queen of England. McCray produced a tribute band called the Franklin Street Five to honor Charleston’s jazz tradition.

Charleston’s “Mr. Jazz” pens a weekly column for The Post and Courier and also wrote a book, “Charleston Jazz.” He produces the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, a 20-piece band based at the Charleston Music Hall, and is the founding president of Charleston’s MOJA Arts Festival and co-founder of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival Jazz Afterhours series. He is a founding board member of the Jazz Artists of Charleston. Native sat down with Jack McCray to get the lowdown on his lifelong passion. Native: What attracted you to the music? McCray: Jazz was the popular music when I was young. I couldn’t help but like it. Live music was commonplace, and it was everywhere. Even in my home there was a piano. I particularly liked jazz because it was the highest form of musical expression. I was even more attracted to the social stuff that surrounded it. I kept listening and adapting. Later I started to figure out that this was the biggest contribution this country has made to world culture. It gave me a significant visit

amount of pride as an African-American in terms of being the inventors of this art form. To watch it grow and be embraced around the world by everybody, everywhere who do their own form of it makes me like it even more. Native: Do you have any early memories of jazz? McCray: I came into it when Louis Armstrong was big but later lost interest in him because Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis matched more of my experience. Instead of the tuxedo and handkerchief, they wore dashikis and berets, and they spoke a language that was more relative to the overall culture and the time. Native: Have you ever wanted to be a musician? McCray: As a child I studied piano, and I played in the high school band. I left Charleston mid-high school and moved to the Northeast. There I was exposed to so much. It was amazing seeing what was going on in Harlem, in Greenwich Village and at the Apollo. The gratification I received as a consumer outweighed any desire to play. Native: How did you emerge into the jazz industry? McCray: When I returned to Charleston after college, I heard radio host Osei Chandler playing live jazz on WSCI-FM. I contacted him just to let him know that I loved what he was doing. We connected and he taught me how to produce a radio show. When he decided to incorporate reggae, he asked me to help with the jazz show. We did a show called “The Wednesday Night Jam Session,” and that sparked my interest to produce live shows. We found some local musicians and formed a band we named “Return to the Source.” We held jam sessions, a money-in-the-hat type deal to pay the musicians, and, before you know it, that evolved into a series called Jazz After Hours presented during Piccolo Spoleto. I took over the jazz program for much of the 1980s. Native: How did you start writing? McCray: Osei created a segment called the Community Bulletin Board. One of the ways I helped was to do some interviews. It was my first experience at journalism. I turned out to be pretty good at it. In the mid-80s, I took a part-time job as a clerk at The News and Courier and worked my way up. My dad taught me that in the world of work, you have to diversify yourself to increase your longevity. The more you know, the better chance you have to keep your job. While at the paper, I learned how to copy edit. I thought it would be more creative. It wasn’t, but it was another skill set. Another lesson I learned was that in order to keep a craft, you have to practice it, so I started writing sports. The first music piece I wrote was a book review. I started asking for opportunities to write feature stories, particularly jazz, which nobody was doing at the time. They were open because I was giving it to them. In fact, if you look at my old HR folder, I was a copy editor. The only time I was ever paid for stories there was when I was a sports reporter. visit

Native: What about jazz fascinates you? McCray: There is more of a desire for individual selfexpression; that’s what jazz is. All the other art forms have improvisational aspects but not nearly as much as jazz. Jazz is risky. It’s scary because it is in real time. That’s what makes it a great art form because you seek perfection in real time. A painter, photographer or writer can start over or edit what they’ve created, but, in live music, you can’t do that. It’s sort of like boxing. It’s just you and the other guy. You’re just out there. Native: What sets jazz musicians apart from musicians of the other popular art forms? McCray: There is fellowship among jazz musicians. They really delight in discovering each other, maybe because there are fewer of them. They only have in common a language – a vocabulary. An R&B band probably wouldn’t take the stage without rehearsal. If you know “the book,” as they call it, a body of work, a certain amount of songs, and if the artists know and trust that another knows the vocabulary, they’ll go up on the bandstand without ever having spoken before. Plus I’ve noticed that jazz musicians can play more of the other forms than the others can play jazz. It is very difficult, and, because of that, they are courageous. Native: Some people think jazz is a snobby art form. Why do you think that is? McCray: Jazz musicians take what they do seriously, but they don’t take themselves seriously. They know how to differentiate that which is hard to do for human beings. I think this happened early on with people who weren’t into it. They probably thought jazz musicians and lovers were snobs, that we somehow thought we knew something that they didn’t know. Jazz is a music of submission. You can’t enjoy it if you’re sitting there judging them being outside of what they do. What you do is play along with them in your head and your heart and hope you like where they take you, but you have to give of yourself. That’s why we sit there and listen and we wait for that reward. Most people don’t have that faith. That’s why we applaud when we applaud, at a point where you let them know you like where they just took you. Sometimes you’re disappointed, but that’s life. Native: Do you prefer to listen to jazz in a large concert hall or are you just as comfortable in a local bar? McCray: Jazz is global. What happens in the old village of Mount Pleasant by a good player is just as important as what happens at Lincoln Center in New York by a celebrated player. If you really like the music, you’ll enjoy that cat in Mount Pleasant just the same. Growing up, McCray recalled the “fantastic things going on” around him. Among others, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Malcolm X, John Coltrane and Miles Davis defined pop culture. “I was born six months after Jackie Robinson broke into baseball. It was an amazing time,” McCray said. And Jack McCray has had an amazing effect on jazz in Charleston. To follow McCray’s blog, log on to www. june/july 2011 | native magazine 29



A Timeless Tradition in a Revitalized City Market By W. Lee Gilliard Assistant General Manager • City Market Preservation Trust Since the late 18th century, the Charleston City Market has served as a gateway for people of Gullah heritage and culture to assimilate into the melting pot that is the city of Charleston. From refugees fleeing what was to become known as the Haitian Chuma Nwokike, left, owner of Chuma Gullah Gallery, with W. Lee Gilliard, assistant general manager of the City Market Preservation Trust.

30 native magazine | june/july 2011


Under the direction of City Market Preservation Trust LLC, the market is in the final phase of an extensive $5-million, 40-000-square-foot restoration project. The new interior design of the Great Hall will incorporate architectural features such as natural skylights, bluestone aisles and exposed brick columns and archways but will preserve the historic look of the iconic structure. The project is the culmination of hard work, sacrifice and a sincere commitment to supporting Charleston’s small business community. The primary goals of the restoration project were to improve the overall aesthetics and shopping experience for patrons, preserve the existing 294 small business operations and create unique opportunities for growth and diversity as evidenced by the addition of Chuma Gullah Gallery. Chuma Gullah will offer a wide array of products and services promoting the Gullah experience. “When you visit Chuma Gullah Gallery, you will learn about the Gullah culture through art, books and crafts. Additionally, our knowledgeable staff will provide you with information and resources to learn more about Gullah culture through storytelling, spirituals, tours and food,” said Nwokike. The image, brand and legacy of the Charleston City Market are greatly enhanced through preservation and diversity. This historic landmark has functioned as an incubator for small business owners in Charleston for more than 200 years and will continue to serve and promote the entrepreneurial spirit of those who seek the opportunity to achieve financial freedom and success. Visit to learn more about the City Market or to rent a booth.

Revolution in 1793 to sweetgrass basket weavers, preserving a timeless art that has become an integral part of the Charleston experience, the histories of the market and of the Lowcountry’s African-American population have been intertwined. The legacy indentured and freed Africans have weaved into the fabric of the Holy City will be celebrated in June, when Chuma Gullah Gallery opens in the Great Hall section of the market. “Chuma Gullah Gallery is honored to be part of the newly-restored Charleston City Market. Welcoming millions of visitors each year, the market is an awesome destination both for tourists and Charlestonians,” said gallery owner Chuma Nwokike. visit

june/july 2011 | native magazine 31

Interval Training

A Better Way to Build Endurance and Burn Calories By Chris Matthews Maintaining your vascular health is critical because heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is no secret that the best strategies for good heart health are regular checkups that monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels, balanced nutrition and, of course, regular exercise. One of the top risk factors for heart disease is an inactive lifestyle. Fortunately, you can do something about this risk factor.

A regular exercise regimen can: 4 Strengthen your heart; 4 Increase energy levels; 4 Lower blood pressure; 4 Strengthen bones; 4 Improve your circulation and help your body use oxygen more efficiently; 4 Help reduce body fat; 4 Help reduce stress; 4 Boost self-image; 4 Increase sexual stamina.

For those of you who are short on time, an easy way to get the most out of your workout is through interval training, the most effective method for burning calories in the least amount of time. Interval training involves alternating short bursts of high-intensity work sets with low-intensity recovery periods or rest sets. This start-and-stop action is similar to playing sports. By adding higher-intensity intervals, you can build your endurance, thus burning more calories and more fat. Scientists believe this type of training works because catecholamines, hormones your adrenal glands release in stressful situations, cause physiological changes that prepare you for physical activity and signal your body to start burning fat. The more catecholamines your body produces, the longer the fat-burning process lasts. In fact, your body is still burning fat for up to 36 hours after you complete your

high-intensity training session. Interval training can be any type of cardio workout, with or without a machine, such as running, cycling, swimming or rowing, as long as you alternate your speeds. During the high-intensity work sets, you should be working out of your comfort zone PHOTO BY DARRIN TODD LITTLE but not so hard that you experience dizziness or lightheadedness. Pay attention to how you feel, and set your intensity level and duration accordingly. Work at a moderate level during each rest set; you should be completely recovered before the next work set. You should stretch before and after any workout, and you should consult a doctor or training professional before starting an interval training program.

With interval training, you will: 4 Burn more calories; 4 Improve your aerobic capacity; 4 Eliminate boring workouts; 4 Not need any special equipment.

Chris Matthews, a certified personal trainer in Charleston, has an extensive background in sports and athletic training. Having competed in high school, college and professional sports, he understands the importance of good health through strength training and nutrition. For more tips on exercising and staying healthy, join the Man of Steel Fitness group on Facebook.

A Half Hour Can Make A Difference Here is a 30-minute interval training program that will have you feeling and looking better in no time. 5 minutes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Warm up. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Walk at a comfortable pace 3 minutes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rest set. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Work at a moderate pace; make this your baseline 1 minute . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Work set. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Increase incline/speed/resistance so you are working very hard 3 minutes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rest set. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Back to baseline 1 minute . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Work set. . . . . . . . . . . . . Increase incline/speed/resistance so that you are working very hard 3 minutes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rest set. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Back to baseline 1 minute . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Work set. . . . . . . . . . . . . Increase incline/speed/resistance so that you are working very hard 3 minutes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rest set. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Back to baseline 1 minute . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Work set. . . . . . . . . . . . . Increase incline/speed/resistance so that you are working very hard 3 minutes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rest set. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Back to baseline 1 minute . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Work set. . . . . . . . . . . . . Increase incline/speed/resistance so that you are working very hard 5 minutes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Cool down. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Walk at a comfortable pace 40 native magazine | june/july 2011


Millions discover their favorite reads on issuu every month.

Give your content the digital home it deserves. Get it to any device in seconds.