Hear Me Roar
October 2019 Issue
Photography by (left) Mike Force Photography
The McIntosh County Shouters
Pictured Left to Right:
Back Row: L.C., Freddie, Carletha, Carolyn, Brendon, Dennis
Front Row: Vanessa and Carol
Way back in the day, some six generations ago in McIntosh County, Jenkins’ family members often gathered to share their Gullah Geechee heritage in the form of the Shout, performing their ancestral stories through movement, word and song, especially during worship on Sundays. Today the McIntosh County Shouters continue to share this living history. Their performance of the Shout has been proclaimed by many as the roots of all music in America. Yes, ALL American music.
We sat down with nine of the ten member group, each one graced with a special purpose in honoring their ancestors. The Shouters are all cousins, who are descendants of London and Amy Jenkins, and have lived in McIntosh all their lives. L.C., Carolyn, Carletha, Freddie, Dennis, Kantressa, Carol, Brenton and Vanessa were happy to share views and stories of their nearly 40 years in public performance. Carletha spoke first: “We did not learn the Shout; it is in us. The old souls of our ancestors come right on out!”
Why do you Shout? CAROL: “For me, it is something you got to do – you have to do it – you are drawn to it. I personally thought it just something my family does, but when I saw them perform on St. Simons Island at a cultural festival and how people were in awe, I knew it was special and people had to learn it and people have to know what we know because it is life for us. It’s an honor to show everyone what this is! It’s a duty to honor our ancestors and teach the world what the ring shout is and what shouting is.
Brendon: “I used to say I did not have a choice in doing this because it is a duty and a responsibility; it’s a call. Where the ring shout was once a prominent source of togetherness and community for a lot of Gullah Geechee communities and for all Gullah Geechee nations, those other communities have allowed it to die. It did not die here. Because of that, I feel it is an obligation. Once I came of age and truly understood what I had culturally, spiritually, traditionally and family wise, it was a duty for me. Therefore it’s not something I had a choice in doing; it’s a birthright.
What is the Ring Shout and what are important parts your performances? Brendon: “The ring shout is our heritage. It is an impressive fusion of call and response singing with percussion, utilizing the stick. However, the shout does not refer to the singing, but to the dance-like movements of the participants, which are done in a ring format, and always done counterclockwise.
Freddie: “The Stick calls the shout and we shuffle. The shuffle is the percussion. Back in the day, they’d just use a broom handle or a cane. I’m the Songster, and I start the songs. Brendon is the Stick of the group. A favorite Gullah song we perform is “Move Daniel” about a party the slaves would have once Daniel arrived with the meat he “teefed” (stole) from the bosses. Daniel had to really run hard not to be caught, and they had a party that night!
Vanessa: “I am the Commentator who relates each song to the audience before we start. We sing in Gullah and a lot of people do not understand the words, so I give them a little background.
Carletha: “We follow the traditional dress of our ancestors who worked the fields. We all wear long sleeves, and the women wear long skirts and head rags tied in various ways. The guys wear overalls. We use several seamstresses, who select lightweight summer material and heavier cloth for winter shows.
Are there various types of Shouts? Brendon: “A shout is multi-faceted. Certain songs are done for celebration, ones for funerals, certain songs for birthdays, weddings, religious reasons and some are for socials.
Carol: “When you hear that first stick beat or a call, you gotta move! We recently did a performance at E Town Radio, a show where the stage was so small…
Brendon: “I was laughing so hard because I just wanted to move and couldn’t, so I thought, I have never sat this still on stage. It was confining. I have to move!
It’s been written that Shouters music is the ancestral root songs of the blues and jazz… Everyone nodded their heads in agreement. Brendon: “The Shout is the root and foundation of American music. If you think about it, the shout is the closet musical link America has to Africa. If you take out the stick, you now have a spiritual, when you add a piano and drums, you have a gospel song. Add in extra rhythms, you now have blues and jazz. Add some horns and speed it up a little bit, you now have R&B and hip hop. Make it a little rougher and you have rock ‘n’ roll. The Shout is the basis for music that has evolved over time. And our music is music where you cannot sit still!
Have you all traveled with your performances? Dennis, Carletha, Brendon, L.C., Freddie: “We went to Festival International in Lafayette, Louisiana, performing with people from all over the world. We did the opening of the National Museum of African American Art and History in Washington, D.C. We’ve performed Charleston’s Spoleto Festival, Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall. In 2010, we were awarded the Georgia Governor’s Award in Humanities and performed at the Library of Congress and The Kennedy Center. And, we love working with PBS and HBO networks.
Brendon: “Last year, we did Musical Explorers in Savannah, where we performed ten shows for 10,000 students in five days. In Coastal Georgia and South Carolina’s school systems, many kids are African American and Gullah Geechee from way back. Because of that, their ancestors once did the shout, but somehow it died out, and they don’t remember it. So we re-introduce them to what I like to call ‘unfamiliar-familiar.’
A lot of them may recognize some of the songs and the rhythms, but they have never seen the dance and movement of it. This education shows them what their ancestors once did. It tells them to go back and dig, to do the research to find those connections within themselves. Many do what is cool and popular, but we say to look within your own family blood line and see if your family may have left a legacy for you.
Carol: “I feel the importance when we do these performances because sometimes these songs were born out of the oppression our ancestors went through. For someone to see and think, ’Wow, they were able to create this even though they were being ripped and working 18-hour days in the fields. They still found a way to find joy within themselves to sing a song.’ For us to be able to show them so many songs of joy in seeking God, overcoming and enduring, they might say, ‘If my ancestors could create these songs during slavery, just imagine what we can do today.’ It’s also important for kids to hear the words of the songs, not just the shout and the beating of the stick—to actually hear the words they were able to create even while being oppressed.
What comments do you hear from your audiences? Dennis: “We get comments and requests for old hymns. When we beat the stick, it reminds them of their ancestors and brings them to tears.
Freddie: “People come up from all over and say, ’I’ve never seen nothing like that! They express love saying ‘you have blessed my soul.’ Carol: “When Freddie and Brendon get going on the song, and we are all moving and can feel our ancestors moving in us—because the ring shout is not easy—you gotta keep singing, pushing and feeling the spirit in you. Then you know this is something more than just words put together. It’s something meant to be—to move the crowd to touch your heart and soul and rejuvenate you.
CaroL: At each show, we introduce how we are related. Someone came up to me and said ‘your dad brought me to tears.’ Another said, ’your dad, Freddie, reminded me of my great grandad.’ My dad has the spirit of reminding them of something good in their lives. So, the most compliments I get are about my dad!”
What are you all SHOUTING about and what do you want people to know? Brendon, Carletha and Freddie: “The one thing we want the world to know about is the Gullah Geechee people. We are America’s hidden treasure, and we are proud people. The old Gullah Geechee thing does not make you ignorant. And, people might think when we talk the old language, we sound funny, but that is our heritage. We love to perform, and whenever we do, it’s an education. The Shout has never stopped.
Brendon: “For a long time, until recently in 2000, it was a disgrace to be considered Gullah Geechee. Since then people have begun to take pride in being Gullah Geechee. I want people to know being Gullah Geechee is not a fad. It is almost as though people are jumping on the bandwagon, and that’s not what this culture is—that’s not the way you learn who you are. A lot of black people want to run back to Africa to find their roots. How can you appreciate the cultural aspects of your history in Africa when you can’t even appreciate what’s in your own backyard? You have to start at home first and then do that cultural dig.
Fun Fact: Carla, the 10th member, is Brendon’s mother
Book: Shout Because You’re Free by Art Rosenbaum. A historical look at The McIntosh Shouters
CDs: "Slave Shout Songs from the Coast of Georgia" and "Spiritual and Shout Songs from the Georgia Coast"
Follow Them on YouTube: McIntosh County Shouters
Live Performance: October 25 at 7 p.m. Come hear the McIntosh County Shouters at McIntosh County Aging Program Senior Center, 1009 Eulonia Park Rd., Townsend, Ga. Free/open to the public.
Home Base: Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, 2279 GA Hwy. 99, Townsend, Ga 31331.