COLUMBIA – Betty McDaniel of Pickens has been awarded the 2015 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award for her advocacy of Southern Appalachian culture.
McDaniel has pursued a passion for cultural heritage and traditional music in the Upstate for more than 35 years. While working as an educator, McDaniel organized annual heritage festivals at Holly Springs Elementary School to celebrate local culture in Pickens County.
With support from The Humanities CouncilSC, she had children interview families in the area, write articles and develop presentations titled “Portrait of a Southern Appalachian Community.”
The award was presented on behalf of the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum and the S.C. Arts Commission.
Since retirement from the classroom in 2002, McDaniel has continued to be a tireless advocate for folklife and traditional arts. In 2008, she organized the Young Appalachian Musicians (YAM) program. Geared toward elementary and middle school students, the program involves weekly classes on traditional music taught by experienced bluegrass and old-time musicians.
McDaniel also led the formation of the nonprofit Preserving Our Southern Appalachian Music (POSAM), the parent organization for the YAM program. Under her leadership, the YAM program has grown from 32 students at one school to more 300 students at 10 schools in Pickens County.
Several years ago, McDaniel expanded the YAM program to include the formation of a band called the Sweet Potato Pie Kids. The group performs on a regular basis throughout the region.
“It can be a challenge to engage young people through the traditional arts,” said Douglas Dowling Peach, South Carolina Folklife and Traditional Arts Program Director at McKissick Museum and the South Carolina Arts Commission. “Betty McDaniel not only engages, but excites and inspires youth to learn, perform, and be proud of the traditional music of the South Carolina Upstate, all with her signature optimism and enthusiasm. Her lifelong work has created a youthful wind through the Southern Mountains and its music.”
The Folk Heritage Award is named for the late Jean Laney Harris, an ardent supporter of the state’s cultural heritage. The award was created by the Legislature in 1987 to recognize lifetime achievement in the folk arts. The artistic traditions represented by the award are significant because they have endured, often for hundreds of years.