Sounds of the South: Beaufort Ensemble Preserves Gullah Culture - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Sounds of the South: Beaufort Ensemble Preserves Gullah Culture Through Song


Ever wonder what the Low Country sounds like?

Just listen to Marlena Smalls and the Hallelujah Singers.

The Beaufort-based ensemble is not only known in the Low Country, but around the world for the music that ties them to history... showcasing the African-American culture of the native Sea Islanders called Gullah.

"My mission is to preserve the Gullah culture from the stand-point of education," Smalls says. "If we can get African Americans to take a serious look at who we are... start from the point of music... then it will give a better look, a better feel for our children... our children's children... and when I say 'our', I'm not just talking about African Americans."

Over the past several years, the Hallelujah Singers have gained national and international recognition with appearances on NBC's Today Show and in the Academy Award winning picture, Forrest Gump.

Smalls say she was initially hired to arrange five gospel tunes. "They sort of tricked me into that part," says Smalls. "But after they had a business discussion with me, I decided that I would do it. I have no interest in the movies. Really, music is my love. But when they told me how much money I was going to make... and how easy it was... of course, I said yes!"

That role would lead to appearances in a handful other films and three documentaries.

Hollywood aside, it's their music that they continue to maintain and use as a teaching tool for others.

Their talents have taken them to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. where one of their CD's "Juba" is currently sold in the gift shop.  

They've even ventured around the globe, touring Europe.

"I sang for the Queen and also when I was in Germany, I sang for the ambassadors of Europe at Frankfort... and that was really a sight to see our ambassadors dressed in their frocks... and to see them sitting in front of me and I'm performing the music of the states. That was wonderful!"

But no matter where they go, Smalls say Beaufort will always be home because it was here that they found their voice and the world is still listening.

"I think when most people come to our concerts... I think it's a discovery.... and because they've not gotten enough, they come back to the second one, I suppose."


The Hallelujah singers are featured in the African American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress.
They have 5 CD's under their belt.
Aside from doing a lot of lecturing and touring schools, Marlena is also working on her first children's book which is expected to be released early next year.

Click here to visit their Facebook page.

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