The Hallelujah Singers

A vocal group from Beaufort, founded 10 years ago by Marlena Smalls, the Hallelujah Singers seek to preserve through music the Gullah heritage, rooted in West African traditions and language, and brought by the slaves to the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. The Gullah language is Creole blend of West African and European dialects, developed in the isolated plantations of the coastal South. Most of the Gullah vocabulary is of English origin, but grammar and pronunciation come from a number of West African languages, such as Ewe, Madinka, Igbo, Twi and Yoruba. The slaves' knowledge of rice cultivation, a crop that had been grown in the West African region since 1500, made th desirable to the plantation owners of the South Carolina Low Country where rice had become a staple crop. The plantation owners, seeking the comforts of their city homes, often left the day-to-day operation of the plantations to the overseer or for an, causing these isolated plantations to be much less influenced by Euro-American culture and allowing th to retain their "African-ness." It is these circumstances that resulted in the preservation of the Gullah culture.Smalls developed and refined a series of concerts to define the Gullah culture and the "Sea Island sound." Her goal was to preserve the melodies and storytelling technique of the South Carolina Sea Islands. Interwoven with music and narration, the singers present miniature dramatizations of some of the unique personages, rituals, and cer onies that played an important part in shaping the Gullah culture. Among the Hallelujah Singer's repetoire are traditional plantation songs dating back to the 1600s. The group consists of five singers and two musicians, playing strings and conga drums. They have recorded three CDs. The first, "Gullah - Songs of Hope, Faith and Freedom," produced in 1997, features plantation melodies and spiritual songs. In 1998, "Joy - A Gullah Christmas" was released, and finally, in 1999, the latest CD "Gullah - Carry Me Home" was produced; it is the first to be nationally distributed. Performing at youth recreation, community, and senior citizens centers around the country, participating in various music festivals, and providing educational outreach for students in South Carolina and Georgia, the group has earned a number of awards, including the South Carolina Folk Heritage Advocacy Award, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Community Service Award, and the South Carolina Humanitarian Award. The Hallelujah Singers have performed in concert worldwide, and have appeared in television documentaries and the motion picture Forrest Gump. They have also performed for the United States Congress, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and South Carolina legislators. In the fall of 2000, the group will give a concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.