The Musicology of Gullah Geechee Culture

The Musicology of Gullah Geechee Culture

Category : Blog , To Do

This article is about the Virtual Gullah Geechee Program Series by Brookgreen Gardens that was held on Wednesdays from February 3 to May 19th, 2021.

Written by Betty Ogburn

If you’re anything like me (a 90’s baby), chances are that you spent a lot of your early childhood watching the Nick Jr. programming block on Nickelodeon. While there was a plethora of classic T.V. viewing that came from that block (Franklin, Blue’s Clues, Little Bear…), without a doubt, the show that had the most immaculate vibes was Gullah Gullah Island. With its colorful sets, musical interludes, and a lovable polliwog called Binyah Binyah, the series was both fun and refreshing, especially considering its positive representation of a close, stable, and functional African-American family.


While the show’s eponymous island may be fictional, the Gullah people of the title are very real and very much alive today. For those not in the know, the Gullah (also known as Geechee) are a group of African-Americans in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida who descend from enslaved Africans from the “Rice Coast”, which includes modern-day Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. While the exact origins of the terms “Gullah” are unknown, it may derive from “Angola”, which is where the ancestors of many of the Gullah are believed to have come from. Likewise, while the exact meaning of “Geechee” is also uncertain, it may come from the name of the Kissi people from West Africa.
The other day, I had the pleasure and privilege to learn more about this often-overlooked group of Black Americans with a seminar hosted by Brookgreen Gardens. Led by Mr. Ron Daise, who (fun fact!) portrayed the father on Gullah Gullah Island, the seminar delved into two aspects of the musicology of the Gullah Geechee people: pitch and rhythm.
As is the case with all African-American dialects, the distinct pitch of the Geechee has its roots in the sounds of their enslaved African ancestors, particularly the “spirituals” they sang. Also known as “sorrow songs”, spirituals are a genre of music that is, as the name implies, religiously-themed. Oftentimes, the performers would relate their conditions under slavery to biblical characters who received freedom through faith in God, expressing hope for an everlasting peace and rest. These sorrow songs take numerous stylistic elements from folk music found throughout West Africa, including a prominent use of the pentatonic scale, call-and-response structure, and the polyrhythmic, percussive beating of drums. Slave masters feared that such music revealed pagan idolatry, and thus often banned its performance. Nevertheless, enslaved Africans continued to perform their music in secret, holding “community sing” events that still take place in the Gullah community to this day.
It’s an unfortunate fact that, for many years, the Geechee dialect was often viewed as low-class and illegitimate. In truth, however, it’s anything but! Its rhythm and musicality are similar to those of Jamaican patois, Krio of Sierra Leone, and many other languages found throughout the African diaspora, taking different linguistic elements from various countries. Furthermore, while there is no official orthography for Gullah, owing to its having been only an oral language for centuries, various attempts have been made to transcribe the language. Indeed, there’s even been a translation of The Bible into the Geechee tongue, called The Nyew Testament!
Sadly, my time spent with Mr. Daise was far too short: I felt as though he had barely scratched the surface with sharing his fascinating heritage. Thankfully, there is more to come, because Part Two of this “Musicology” series will be held in the spring and summer months! If you’re like me, and you want to discover even more about the Geechee, be on the lookout for registration information to appear on the Brookgreen Gardens website soon!


3 Safe Activities for Your Family to do this Summer in the Grand Strand

Article by Tanasia Brigman

Summer is here! Although we are going through a global pandemic, places are beginning to open back up. Many of these place have plans in place to ensure the safety of there visitors. Regardless if you are visiting or live nearby, here are three family friendly and safe activities to do this summer in the Grand Strand.

Brookgreen Gardens

Address:1931 Brookgreen Garden Dr, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576

Hours: Sunday-Saturday 9:30 am-5pm

Southern Light Exhibit: Wednesday- Saturday 8pm-11pm

Cost: Children (3 and under)- FREE

Children (3-12)- $10

Adults (13-64)- $18

Seniors (65+)- $16

*Tickets may be purchased online or in person and are valid for 7 consecutive days after purchase.

Brookgreen Garden is one of American premier gardens and also a National Historic Landmark. Brookgreen offers tours and exhibits for all ages from beautiful botanical gardens to American sculptures to the low country zoo. It also feature the Bruce Munro exhibit, “Southern Light Show” The exhibit features seven works of art in light and mixed media in order for visitors to see the garden in a “new light”.

Children can enjoy the freedom of the outdoors in the beautiful gardens. They also have the Children’s Discovery Room, where they have interactive stations for children 4-12 to create projects they can take home and they also learn about the history of the garden. Also the Children’s Nature & Sensory Trail is where children can learn information about the garden through sensory stations  “Creative Physical Activity,” and “Unstructured Play” stations that reflect the nature and history of Brookgreen Gardens. There is also the popular Enchanted Storybook Forest, where each playhouse is based on a children’s storybook.

Brookgreen gardens is an outside area where you can keep a safe distance from people. Face mask are mandatory, when you are inside buildings. Also remember to wash your hands and sanitize. It is recommended that you do not bother the wild life, you do not swim in any of the bodies of water, and that you wear closed toe shoes. Also, bring the necessary sunscreen and bug repellent with you.

Cavrn Virtual Reality

Address: 4628 Factory Stores Blvd Ste B200, Myrtle Beach, SC 29579

Hours: Wednesday- Sunday 12pm-7pm

Cost: $35/ per player for 60 minutes

1 player = 1 booth 

*Reservations may be made on website, Facebook, or by phone.

CaVRn is a veteran owned and operated business. It is the Ultimate Virtual Reality Experience. They host parties, team building experiences, and corporate events. CaVRn also offers educational programs and 360 degree video production.

CaVRn has over 50 kid friendly games from race car games to escape room to carnival games. Virtual reality games (VR) can be either single or multiplayer. One of their most popular single player games is Fruit Ninja. Fortnite is one of their most popular multiplayer VR games along with Creed and others.  It is also kid friendly for kids 7 and up, children must be accompanied by an adult and have a signed waiver. This is to ensure the safety of your children while the family enjoys a night out. 

During COVID-19 pandemic they are only accepting reservations that can be booked via website, Facebook, or phone call. They will also be cleaning and sanitizing every 30 minutes between reservations. Also temperatures will be checked at the door.

Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach

Address: 1110 Celebrity Cir, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577

Hours: Sunday- Saturday 9am-8pm

Cost: Adult- $34.99

Child (6-11)-$24.99

Child (3-5)- $12.99

*Tickets may be purchased online or in person.

Ripley’s Aquarium is a big tourist attraction at Myrtle Beach. It has two levels of numerous sea creatures to explore and experience, from jelly fish to stingrays. There are also lots of fun activities for kids of all ages to enjoy. Ripley’s also has live shows that feature mermaids and dive tours through the exhibits.

Ripley’s is an indoor activity and has reduced capacity due to COVID-19. There are sanitation stations available throughout the building and PPE is worn by all employees. A mask must be worn at all times and if you do not have one, one will be provided for you. Also, some of the exhibits and activities are temporarily not available, like Glass Bottom Boat, Touch Tank and other interactives.

On the other hand the Penguin Playhouse is still open, which is one of the biggest attractions for kids. It is also the largest exhibit in Ripley’s, at 5,500 square feet. It includes 8 new tanks with new species of fish and also two new classrooms. This exhibit allows visitors to crawl through a tunnel and enjoy the penguin habitat. They can also stop by the penguin nursery and see baby penguins. This new attractions is fun for everyone!