- Each year since 1988, outstanding artists are honored at the Governor’s Arts Awards, held in conjunction with the Mississippi Arts Commission.
Mississippi has long been known for its many artists. From visual arts, performing arts, literary arts, music, dance, and more, this state has some of the most talented and prolific artists in the country. That’s important, because the arts are the lens through which we define our cultural identity. Our values, ideas, visions and way of life is portrayed through the artists’ expressions.
Each year since 1988, outstanding artists are honored at the Governor’s Arts Awards, held in conjunction with the Mississippi Arts Commission. The awards are give annually in recognition of those who have made significant and lasting contributions to the arts in Mississippi. The recipients of this year’s awards were honored for their extraordinary creative achievement as well as the impact of the art on the expansion of our cultural horizons and the enrichment of our communities.
The event was held in the auditorium of the Mississippi Two Museums, with Daniella Oropeza as host. Oropeza serves as the morning anchor for WTVA news in Tupelo.
Peter Zapletal – Excellence in Performing Arts
The first recipient of the evening was Peter Zapletal, who received the award for excellence in performing arts. Zapletal learned puppetry in his native Czechoslovakia.
After earning a master’s degree in Puppetry from the Academy of the Performing Arts in Prague, he emigrated to New York with his family, including his girlfriend (who became his wife), Jarmila.
He was recognized in 1970 by the New York Times as “a talent to watch.”
With the success of Sesame Street, which used puppets, Public Broadcasting stations around the country began utilizing puppets in their programming. Zapletal was offered a position at Mississippi ETV, where he worked for the next 32 years, creating many instructional and special programs both with and without puppets. He garnered more than fifty national awards, including five EMMYs for Ticktock Minutes, and the Silver Circle Award for the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for 25 years of excellence in television puppetry.
At the presentation, Zapletal thanked Governor Tate Reeves before performing with members of the Puppet Arts Theatre. Zapletal served as the director of the company prior to his recent retirement.
Rachel Dangermond accepted the award presented to the 100 Men Hall for Arts in the Community.
The 100 Men Hall was built by the African American community of Bay Saint Louis in 1922. It was the epicenter of Black life and culture for the Mississippi Gulf Coast and was a regular stop for performers on the Chitlin’ Circuit. James Brown, Etta James and Ray Charles are just a few of the legendary musicians the Hall has attracted over the years.
The Hall also stands on the Mississippi Blues Trail, and today operates as a living museum and testament to its past, present, and future.
Dangermond purchased the Hall in 2018 and resurrected the original 1894 501(c)(3) nonprofit. She was inspired to continue the tradition of using art to tell stories by showcasing a variety of performance, spoken, visual, and literary work while continuing what she calls the “sacred acts of presenting live music” on its historic stage.
Cedric Burnside – Excellence in Music
The Excellence in Music award was presented to North Mississippi Hill Country blues musician Cedric Burnside, who began playing drums as a child for his grandfather, Hill Country blues legend R.L. Burnside.
Cedric later became a vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for work that both honored old traditions while breaking new ground musically.
Burnside grew up in Holly Springs and got his music training alongside his grandfather and father at house parties. He began playing in Junior Kimbrough’s club as a teenager, and toured nationally with his grandfather. He also played drums with the North Mississippi Allstars.
He received a GRAMMY for his album I Be Trying (2021) and he has won multiple Blues Music Awards and Living Blues Awards. At the Governor’s Arts Awards, Burnside played a couple of songs from his new album, to be released in April.
Brent Funderburk – Excellence in Visual Arts and Education
Brent Funderburk is a William L. Giles Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Mississippi State University where he has served as Art Department Head and taught for 36 years.
He has been recognized with the University’s highest academic, teaching and research honors. Known for his exuberantly hued paintings as well as his energetic teaching and lectures, the Charlotte, North Carolina native calls Starkville his home.
Funderburk has been honored with numerous awards and his work has been shown in galleries across the country and abroad. He designed the colorful cover art for the Governor’s Arts Awards program this year.
Earl Poole Ball – Lifetime Achievement
Foxworth native Earl Poole Ball learned to play the piano from his aunt Kathryn at the Foxworth Baptist Church.
As he said in his acceptance speech, “I was playing in the church one week, and the next week I was playing in a juke joint.”
He hitch-hiked to Hattiesburg and back each week to play on the Jimmy Swan Show. At age 20 his father gave him bus money to go to Houston, where he honed his craft after meeting Mickey Gilley, who showed him the ropes of survival in the world of honky-tonk piano players.
Over the years he has either produced for or played with artists including Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, Freddie Hart, Buck Owens, Gram Parsons, Carl Perkins, Marty Stuart, Michael Nesmith, Marty Robbins, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and he played on thee Byrd’s iconic album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
Ball has received numerous awards, including the Academy of Country Music’s Piano Player of the Year in 1967. He was recommended to Johnny Cash by songwriter Harlan Howard, and after one session, Cash invited him to join his traveling show. Ball toured, recorded and performed on television with Cash for the next 20 years. Ball produced Cash’s album, Rockabilly Blues, in 1980.
He entertained the crowd at the Governor’s Arts Awards, joining the Arts Awards Combo comprised of Raphael Semmes, Barry Leach and Bill Perry. For a finale, Cedric Burnside joined in. Governor Tate Reeves and his wife, First Lady Elee Reeves, were on their feet, dancing to the music as the night came to a close.
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