Celebrate the Culture of America: A Visit with the 2021 NEA National Heritage Fellows

By Paulette Beete
Reginald McLaughlin dancing underneath the lighted marquee of the Chicago Theater in downtown Chicago

Reginald "Reggio the Hoofer" McLaughlin. Photo by Hypothetical

“Folk and traditional arts are infused with meaning, family history and cultural knowledge. They offer a critical way of telling our own story and the story of our nation.” – Ann Eilers, NEA  Acting Chair

Will you put up a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve? Will you use a menorah passed down through generations or will you start a tradition of your own with a new one? Will you eat the Thanksgiving meal at lunchtime or in the early evening?As the winter holiday season unfolds, many of us will celebrate with family and community traditions that define who we are as a family and as a community. Community is at the heart of the art forms practiced by the 2021 NEA National Heritage Fellows, whether it's captured in the textures of a life lived in Mississippi's Hill Country or the soundscape of a town saturated with the making of mundillo lace. As we take a pause tomorrow to focus on gratitude, we are grateful for the work of these culture bearers and traditional artists who continually remind us of the infinite, inextricable strands that ultimately bind us together.

“I always say Hill Country blues has got a mind of its own. Kinda have to really feel it as opposed to read it.” – Cedric Burnside


“Folklore is extremely difficult to define. There are lots of people who have tried + each definition seems to be a little bit of the truth, but leaves something out. It's so ubiquitous + it's so close to that you kind of take it for granted.” – Tom Davenport

“I still envision future generations to continue this [Rondalla music tradition] as long as there are Filipino-American that want to learn about their roots.” – Tagumpay Mendoza De Leon

“I'm always thinking about the essence of who we are as Osage people. Even though I know I do it in a contemporary way so sometimes it might be hard for people to see it's what informs me and inspires me when I go to make my work.” – Anita Fields

“Mexican folk music, it's still embedded in us, man. It's what got us started. We always draw from that. We always go back to that. It’s the truth.” – Cesar Rojas, Los Lobos

“Anybody who says they got it from the wind, they're full of it. You got it from all these people who have given their hearts, their souls. Passing the music down and giving their time.” – Joanie Madden

“When Africans were brought over to America, they were prohibited to play the talking drum so they began to substitute with the sounds of the beating of their feet. And this developed into an art form.” – Reginald "Reggio the Hoofer" McLaughlin

“I feel satisfied to have achieved what I have achieved, for still living at ease because my life is mundillo. I have always said that it’s what you carry within you from the time you were born that stays with you the rest of your life.”

In Winnsboro, Louisiana, the Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble maintains a rare woman-led African-American sacred ritual that was first practiced by enslaved Africans during the antebellum period.

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