Country singer Pride, poet Trethewey receive Miss. arts awards

Published 11:28 pm Saturday, February 9, 2008

Country superstar Charley Pride crooned a gospel tune Friday as sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows of the sanctuary where Eudora Welty used to worship.

To a rapt audience of more than 1,000 in the wooden pews of Galloway United Methodist Church, poet Natasha Trethewey read a tribute she had written for her native Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Pride and Trethewey were among the recipients of the Mississippi Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts.

“The arts and our culture and our heritage are not just entertainment. But they are economic development, they are education. They are enormous assets for all Mississippians,” Gov. Haley Barbour said.

Pride received a Lifetime Achievement award. He was born in the tiny Delta town of Sledge and taught himself to play guitar when he was 14. He left the segregated South before becoming country music’s most famous black singer. One of his best known hits was “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” from the early 1970s.

Pride, who now lives in Dallas, yodeled Friday and evoked laughter from the Mississippi audience when he imitated what people have told him so often.

“‘You don’t look like you’re supposed to sound,’” he said, smiling. “I do get that a lot.”

Pride said he has never focused on race.

“My older sister one time said, ‘Why are you singing THEIR music?’” Pride said. “But we all understand what the y’all-and-us-syndrome has been. See, I never as an individual accepted that, and I truly believe that’s why I am where I am today.”

Trethewey, a Gulfport native, teaches creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007.

In receiving the Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence on Friday, Trethewey moved several listeners to tears as she read her “Liturgy for the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” It was a “love letter,” she said, to a region ripped apart by Hurricane Katrina more than two years ago.

“…. To the displaced living in trailers along the coast beside the highway in vacant lots and open fields,” she read,

“To everyone who stayed on the coast, who came back — or cannot — to the coast,

“To those who died on the coast,

“This is a memory of the coast, to each his own recollections, her reclamations, their restorations, the return of the coast….”

The Mississippi Museum of Art received the Governor’s Award for Leadership in the Arts; Emma McCain of Meridian was honored for her work as an arts patron; and painter Lallah Miles Perry was honored for artistic excellence.