A Claflin alumnus who worked for more than three decades to keep jazz alive in South Carolina as an educator and entertainer will be honored with a special musical performance and the launch of a new scholarship in his name on April 26.
Thales Thomas “Skipp” Pearson grew up Orangeburg with much adoration, nurtured in his love for the enduring music genre that made him one of the state’s most celebrated jazz musicians.
The Columbia-based Skipp Pearson Jazz Legacy Foundation will celebrate Pearson's legacy and jazz music as an educational tool, force for peace and instrument of intercultural dialogue during International Jazz Week.
Held April 21-30, IJW is a statewide initiative designed to celebrate National Jazz Appreciation Month under the theme "Come Let Freedom Swing."
As part of IJW, Orangeburg will be among six cities statewide where live musical performances will be held.
The Carl Payne Big Band will perform swing music from the 1930s and 1940s during a performance from 7 to 10 p.m. on Thursday, April 26, at Minister's Hall on the campus of Claflin University.
In conjuction with the performance, the university will also launch the Skipp Pearson Jazz Scholarship. The scholarship launch will begin a two-year process to raise funds for a scholarship for the study of music at Claflin in memory of Pearson. The first award is scheduled to be presented on April 30, 2020.
"It is very important that we honor such a legend as he has been touted as the ambassador of jazz for the state of South Carolina," said Dr. Isaiah McGee, chair of the music department and director of choral music at Claflin.
Pearson graduated in 1973 from Claflin College with a bachelor’s degree in music. He began his music career at age 15 and went on to form his own band and secure a spot on the D. Jack Moses show broadcast on WCSC-TV in Charleston in 1953.
McGee said Pearson fostered his love of jazz at Claflin University.
"I think it's fitting that this is an event that is going to happen here on our campus. He is a well-known musician through the country, but has been one that preserved the legacy of quality jazz music, especially in the state of South Carolina," McGee said.
"(Pearson) being a Claflin alumnus, it's very important for us to be a host site for the launch of this as this is where he got his beginning."
Pearson inspired countless others during his 32 years as a music educator in Bamberg, Clarendon and Orangeburg counties, including 14 years with the Denmark-Olar school district. He also served as band director in the Bamberg-Ehrhardt school district and headed up the band program in Clarendon County.
Shirley Martin, a volunteer with the Skipp Pearson Jazz Legacy Foundation, said Pearson believed in the power of jazz music to "change lives and bring people together from every wealk of life."
"The statewide initiative of presenting International Jazz Week as a part of National Jazz Appreciation Month is something that Pops wanted supported for years to come," Martin said.
"On Thursday, April 26, 2018, the entire state of South Carolina is invited to pay tribute to the life and work of the late Skipp Pearson ... . At the same time, this stellar event will provide the public with an opportunity to attend one of six live swing music programs in celebration of the endearing virtues of jazz music," she said.
For the Claflin event, the public is asked to bring a minimum monetary donation of $20. Contributions can be made in advance to receive passes to the event, or a donation can be made at the door.
For additional information and admission passes, individuals are asked to visit online at https://2ruluwq.eventbrite.com.