Festival opens tonight!

Karen Kissiah Staf Writer

October 17, 2013

This weekend Cheraw will host the South Carolina Jazz Festival, celebrating the life and music of the late John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, born here Oct. 21, 1917. The events, Oct. 17 - 20, include free concerts, a parade, a golf tournament, public school performances, Madonnari street art competition, free musical venues at several restaurants in the downtown area, and much more.

Celebrations begin on the Town Green at 6 p.m. tonight, Oct. 17, with a free outdoor concert by eZra Brown. Brown, whose saxophone music is described as jazz soul, performed earlier this week in Namazu-Shizuok, Japan. Wednesday morning he sent this tweet from LaGuardia Airport in New York: “headed to South Carolina. Waffle House (grits) … here i come. lol”

A complete guide and time line of all festival events and musicians is printed on page 1B in this issue of The Cheraw Chronicle.

Gillespie, who is credited with creating his own genre of music called Be-Bop, enjoyed a life-long, internationally acclaimed career as a musician, singer, and composer. He wrote a book about his life, To Be or Not to Be-Bop, and even ran for president as a write-in candidate in the late 1960s. His campaign promised to end the war in Vietnam and re-name the White House the Blues House.

Gillespie performed at the White House for President Jimmy Carter and the Shah of Iran in 1977, and several times for President George H. Bush as well. He won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989, the Kennedy Center Honors Award in 1990, and was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.

Gillespie made guest appearances on the Bill Cosby Show, the Muppet’s, Sesame Street, and lots of other television shows and documentaries. He has a Hollywood Star for his recordings, and his own daily Google logo was published Oct. 21, 2010. He’s about as famous as one gets.

But Gillespie never forgot his hometown and the zest for life he gained here. He moved to Philadelphia with his family in 1935. Yet, through out his career, when asked where he was from, Gillespie would simply say “Cheraw,” as if the whole world knew that small town was in South Carolina.

In the 1980’s, Gillespie gave concerts here for a fraction of the cost of performances around the world. And, of all the accomplishments of his 75 years, on his official website, the second thing listed is a concert given in Cheraw in 1959.

Under Career Highlights the website notes: “Performs at first integrated concert in public school, Cheraw, SC (1959).”

If you’ve forgotten the level of international acclaim Gillespie achieved, the Internet is a treasure trove of information. The host of photos, articles, and videos of performances and interviews through out his career, offer anyone who didn’t get a chance to meet him the opportunity to understand the enthusiasm of his personality and his music.

The town of Cheraw, the Cheraw Parks, Recreation and Leisure Services, and the Greater Cheraw Chamber of Commerce invite you to enjoy the various events of the weekend, including a slice of birthday cake at Centennial Park Saturday morning.

— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at