Arts Winners Entertain On Every Level

This appeared in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger - February 23, 2011

The 2011 Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts on Thursday afternoon is a toast to the state's creative juices, with some of its top musical ambassadors on the receiving and even the hosting end.

Grammy-winning country star Marty Stuart, a 1999 Governor's Award recipient, takes the emcee reins for tomorrow's event from long-time host, acclaimed artist Bill Dunlap.

"The way I see it, I'm the guest host of the Bill Dunlap Show," Stuart said, laughing, by phone.

With the current focus on Mississippi's cultural and musical heritage, "I just thought it'd be a fun year to bring him in," Mississippi Arts Commission head Malcolm White said of Stuart.

"Marty is an international star, he has his own TV show and he's really, really talented and well-connected. And he's an advocate for the arts and the arts commission, and I think he will be very helpful carrying our case to the Legislature and the policymakers," White said.

The 2011 awards honor: bluesman Joseph William "Pinetop" Perkins, lifetime achievement; singer-songwriter-producer Mac McAnally, excellence in music; Jackson textile artist Gwendolyn A. Magee, artistic excellence; Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, arts in community; and Puckett Attendance Center art instructor Chuck Rhoads, arts in education. The Governor's Awards are a special project of the Mississippi Arts Commission.

The actual award was designed by Dunlap. Introduced last year, the sculpture, The Fragment, has been adopted as the permanent emblem of the Governor's Awards.

Recipients will be honored at the 23rd annual public ceremony, 1 p.m. today in the auditorium of the Mississippi Department of Education (the former Central High School) in downtown Jackson. Mississippi Public Broadcasting Think Radio will air the ceremony live.

It won't be a concert, but songs have been known to happen at the event.

At the ceremony, he'll perform with Pastor Evelyn Hubbard. The power of Mississippi music "keeps coming at you," Stuart said, relaying the story of how they met. Stuart and wife Connie Smith went into the Commerce Baptist Church in Robinsonville in 2000 late on New Year's Eve. "We saw the lights on in this little cotton-patch church ... walked in and it was Pastor Evelyn Hubbard's church.

("She plays the organ and sings and preaches and you know, from that night on, I have called her 'the voice of Mississippi.' She is everything that is good and sound about Mississippi in every aspect.

"I'm going to bring my guitar and see what she has in mind and I'm going to be Pastor Evelyn's guitar player."

Stuart's main passion is "to get the Mississippi story to the world at large, all the while getting our state unified," he said.

"These events like the Governor's Awards just add an exclamation point. ... It's the living, breathing part of this thing."

Stuart recalled his own impromptu performance with Pops Staples and his family, the Staples Singers, "just a moment ... that one particular day is really in the top five things I've ever had happen. ... heaven fell down upon us.

"You can't plan those things," Stuart said. "Anytime you get a bunch of us Mississippians together, it's part church, it's part political rally and it's part music show. ... And when the spirit moves, things happen."

By Sherry Lucas

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