Lawrence McKiver, 97: Georgia folk singer helped revive Gullah song form

Lawrence McKiver, who at 97 was the last original member of Georgia’s McIntosh County Shouters, died Monday.

A member of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church, he was the patriarch and former boss songster of the traditional music group, which helped revive the dying song form.

“He lived a good, long life, and he will be missed,” said Carletha Sullivan, one of today’s McIntosh County Shouters.

The traditional ring shout is a very old African-American-Gullah performance tradition. The Mount Calvary Baptist Church congregation in the Bolden community of McIntosh County preserved the song form while others ceased to practice it. By the early 20th century, the ring shout was believed to have died out completely.

Then, in 1980, folklorists Fred Fussell and George Mitchell discovered this group still practicing the ring shout and came to see it in person. Once this revelation was made public, folklorists, ethnomusicologists, dance troupes, historians, professors and anthropologists descended upon the Bolden community to learn about the ring shout from a community that had never broken its tradition.

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Because of the great interest in the ring shout, a group was formed to travel, perform and educate the public about the music, lead by Deacon James Cook and McKiver.

In 1984, Art Rosenbaum recorded the group for Folkways Records, which was acquired by the Smithsonian in 1987. In 1993, the McIntosh County Shouters, led by Cook and McKiver, traveled to Washington to receive the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. In addition, McKiver visited New York City several times with the group to perform with the World Music Institute.

McKiver was also featured in Rosenbaum’s 1998 book, “Shout Because You’re Free,” written about the history of the ring shout and the McIntosh County Shouters.

The McIntosh County Shouters continue to perform today and are all descendants and relatives of the original group. Just as it has been done for more than 300 years, the family continues to travel around the country performing. Many people from Georgia and abroad join Mount Calvary Baptist Church on Watch Night (New Year’s Eve) in Townsend, where the church celebrates the ring shout until the early hours of the morning.

Funeral services for McKiver will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Ga. 99 in Townsend.

The McIntosh County Shouters is a nonprofit organization that relies on the generosity of donors to allow the group to visit schools and teach this culture to students. Donations may be sent to: The McIntosh County Shouters, 2126 Ga. 99, Townsend, GA 31331.

Staff writer Christopher Quinn contributed to this article.

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