The Louisiana Folklife Commission, in partnership with the Louisiana Folklore Society, will honor tradition bearers at events throughout the month of October to celebrate the eighth annual Folklife Month.
Six tradition bearers, individuals who have continually perpetuated the state’s traditional cultures, will be recognized at various events in Louisiana for their work. The honorees are Mary Alice Vanderwaters, Andrew Miller, Alton Armstrong, Lonnie “Butch” Cooksy Jr., Nelson Harris and Rhonda Remedies Gauthier.
Maida Owens, the director of the folklife program, emphasized the importance of rewarding people.
“It’s a way to highlight and reward people who have often spent decades and decades making sure their traditions are passed on in their communities,” Owens said.
Owens explained that the carriers of the tradition are part of Louisiana’s indigenous communities, descendants of the first settlers from the European and African communities that have been here for hundreds of years. They are selected by local folklorists and other cultural workers to increase appreciation for the role they play in maintaining Louisiana folk customs.
Mary Alice Vanderwaters, a singer-songwriter from Rapides Parish, made her own guitar out of a piece of board and rubber bands at age 7 after her brother wouldn’t let her play his guitar. He joined his first bluegrass band as a teenager and began writing songs. He is a longtime member of the Nashville Songwriting Association and now performs on songwriting rounds, churches and festivals. She will be honored at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Troubadours Songwriters Night at Fighting Hand Brewing Company, 1600 Military Highway, Pineville.
Andrew “Chef Drew” Miller learned how to create food with lots of love from the best chef he ever knew: his late mother, Eleanor B. Miller. Drew studied culinary arts at the Sclafani Culinary School and soon began working in the field. In 2000, Chef Drew started Miller Thyme Catering. When he wanted to add something sweet to the menu, he thought of bread with milk. After experimenting with the recipe and adding her own flair, Bananas Foster Bread Pudding was born. It quickly became a signature menu item and one of their most sought-after dishes. He will be honored at 3 p.m. Oct. 26 at Dillard University in Georges Auditorium, 2601 Gentilly Blvd. in New Orleans.
Alton “Lil’ Tiger” Armstrong has been participating in the Creole tradition of the box hat and carnival mask since 1969. Lafayette’s oldest Creole tradition of masking and performing Mardi Gras features vibrantly colored costumes, usually with a painted wire mask and a square beret style hat. made of cardboard, with streamers of crepe paper as part of the decoration. Armstrong is one of the few remaining participants in this tradition, which he tries to pass on to new generations, including his grandchildren. He will be honored at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 15 at the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles on the Atelier stage, 500 Girard Park Drive in Lafayette.
From the age of eight, Lonnie “Butch” Cooksey Jr. he played guitar in his family bluegrass and gospel band, The Cooksey Family. Throughout his 63-year career, he has become an inspiration and a supportive resource for young people learning this traditional musical form and the instruments it uses: banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle and dobro. Cooksey is also a successful sound engineer, supporting acts at bluegrass festivals, churches and other venues. He will be honored at 11:00 a.m. Oct. 16 at Faith Apostolic Church, 26660 James Capel Road in Holden.
When he was in his twenties, Nelson Harris encountered Melvin Williams playing drums in a park, who invited Harris to try his hand at drumming on congas. From that moment on, Williams became his teacher. Since then, Harris has become well known in the Terrebonne parish for playing bongo and conga drums in both traditional and African styles. When asked how drumming makes him feel, Harris said, “When I play drums, I can really feel it coming off the walls. I can feel it coming off the floor. I can hear the sound. I can play so many different ways, that many times I try to capture it in one sound, and it will miss me, so I chase after it.” He will be honored at 3:00 pm on October 23rd at the Rougarou Festival Main Stage, 132 Library Drive in Houma.
Adeasonos and member of the Choctaw-Apache tribe of Ebarb, Louisiana, and president of the Ho Minti Society, Inc., Rhonda Gauthier grew up outside of Zwolle. At a young age she began learning traditional arts from the women of her immediate and extended family, including crocheting, embroidery, hand sewing, quilting, cooking, baking and animal care. Her grandmother taught her about midwifery, the use of natural herbs to treat common ailments, and herb gardening. After earning degrees in anthropology and history from Northwestern State University, he pursued a successful career in historical interpretation and cultural preservation at various sites in Northwest Louisiana. After her retirement, she continued to volunteer. She was honored Oct. 8 at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Northwest Louisiana History Museum in Natchitoches.