Story By Julie Hales Photos By Susan DeLoach
Anita Singleton Prather is a business woman. She is the brains behind her business, ASE’-Gullah Education, LLC. Her business is vast and encompasses many things….catering, event planning, storytelling, educating, singing, acting, writing plays and being a historian. She is the founder and a member of the musical performance group, The Gullah Kinfolk, Gullah Traveling Theater, Inc…among many other things.
If you have never heard of Anita Singleton Prather, perhaps you have heard of Aunt Pearlie Sue. Aunt Pearlie Sue is the creation of Anita Singleton Prather, a native of the Sea Islands in Beaufort County, South Carolina. Based on her grandmother, Aunt Pearlie Sue’s character has entertained audiences with Gullah-flavored folktales for many years.
When asked where she got her start, Anita thinks for a short moment, then replies, “My parents were involved in the civil rights movement when I was growing up. We were one of the first black families that were integrated in the school system, so we were involved in a lot of cultural type enrichment activities. By the time I was in the 8th grade, we would go over to Penn Center for cultural enrichment workshops… African drumming and spoken word in the Gullah dialect. I guess that kind of wet my appetite a little for performing.”
From then on, Anita had a passion for performing. She became involved in as many school and church activities as possible, especially the ones that gave her the opportunity to perform. She shares, “I was always a big performer at church events and school events. I was very involved in the Pep Club and Student Council In High School, I learned a Gullah poem, which I later performed in school. This was my first time speaking the Gullah dialect in a public setting even though it was spoken by many family members at family gatherings. All of that became part of who I am today.”
Anita was very involved in her church. While still in high school, she began playing the piano in churches around the area. When she came back from college, she only wanted to play for her own church, First African Baptist Church.
There she became the minister of Music and the Youth Minister. She also began writing plays for the church…Christmas and Easter. And, she started doing Children’s Church.
By this time, she was also teaching full time. She got involved teaching the children about Black History and was able to write some plays about Black History. The kids were able to perform these plays at school.
Aunt Pearlie Sue is composed of different parts of Anita’s grandmother, Rosa, who was her mentor. “Rosa was a full figured woman with a positive attitude. She danced, she sang she gardened and she was an expert seamstress and cook. In Anita’s words, “My grandmother was the real “Madea.” She carried a pistol in her purse. She took charge of her work….and sometimes her employer. She was a take charge kind of woman…the kind that didn’t allow people in her kitchen at cooking time and roaming the house at cleaning time. I learned a lot from her.”
Anita has spent the last 18 years performing as Aunt Pearlie Sue and with her Gullah Kinfolk musical group. She has had the opportunity to perform abroad and all over the United States…even for the White House during President Clinton’s administration.
She performs a lot locally at Penn Center’s Heritage Days, the Original Gullah Festival, Lands End Woodland River Festival, Sea Island Christmas Celebration at USCB and many local churches.
The Gullah Kinfolk are the most exciting musical sensation ever to come from the South Carolina Sea Islands.
Virtually all related, the closeness of this dynamic group is apparent from the first song. Audiences nationwide have been mesmerized by their unique style, memorable performances and uplifting renditions of their historical repertoire.
The group was formed by Anita in 1999 in an effort to preserve Gullah history and the Gullah dialect. A performance by the Gullah Kinfolk is a rare treat that will be remembered for a lifetime.
Their annual production, Gullah Kinfolk Christmas Wish …Freedom Comin,’ is an emotional production. The story of Christmas is seen through the eyes of slaves. Anita’s grandchildren are in this productions which, she says, they came into them practically at the time of their birth.
On the business side, Anita spends a lot of time promoting the Gullah Kinfolk. She markets the group, books their performances and pretty much makes sure everything happens the way it is supposed to…from costumes and props…to writing…to singing.
Anita’s decision to promote the Gullah heritage was not so clear cut: “I stumbled onto it. I didn’t plan it.” Although now revered as a culture, it wasn’t that way in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. “Years ago I was taking a trip over to Daufuskie Island which got canceled at the last minute. I started fussing with God. Then, I got a vision to teach the children about Gullah. And that’s how it all began.
“God let me know that Gullah was going to be my ministry. I thought, good…I get to tell white people off for the way they treated black people back in the day, and get paid for it. God said…Nah, not the way this is going to happen. God explained to me it had nothing to do with color. You have the good, the bad and the ugly in all folks. God taught me that anyone who tries to hold someone down, they too become a victim,” she says.
Anita and Aunt Pearlie Sue have combined forces to educate us and to allow us to experience the history of an era, and a culture deeply embedded in this area. For so many years , it was the backbone of the economics upon which the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands were built and prospered. “Gullah is not a culture that excludes, it is the umbilical cord that connects us all back to the cradle of civilization: Mother Africa,” Anita says.
As a storyteller and singer, Prather has performed at many festivals, including the Spoleto USA international Arts Festival in Charleston, Festival of the Sea in San Francisco California and the Connection Project in Barbados West Indies just to name a few. She has appeared in the Hollywood film, Forrest Gump, and on Christmas Across America on the Food Network Channel. In addition to her participation in educational documentaries, Prather’s one-woman show, Tales from the Land of Gullah, has been broadcast on PBS nationwide, Canada and the Virgin Islands. Her latest film project, Circle Unbroken Gullah Journey from Africa to American, was featured at the Capital City Black Film Festival in Austin Texas and is also being broadcast nationally on PBS.
Along with her film and music projects, her animated character spins tales and songs on an award-winning website on SCETV Knowitall.org/ gullahnet. Her traveling museum exhibit, that originated at the Children’s Museum of Houston and has toured the top children’s museums throughout the US and Canada, featuring Aunt Pearlie Sue, has introduced over one million children to the Gullah culture of the Sea Islands of Beaufort.
Her true life short film, My Man Done Me Wrong, has tickled audiences at the Jamerican Black Hollywood, San Francisco Film Festival and other national and international film festivals.
Her voice has been heard across the nation by radio broadcasters as she spins her Gospel Top 10 tale, “Chicken Dinner Money.”
She is also the curriculum coordinator for the Education of Gullah Culture Through the Arts in the Beaufort County School District. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Howard University and a Master’s + 30 Degree in Education from the University of South Carolina.
Through her Gullah heritage, Anita continues to creatively entertain and educate audiences of all ages about the African experience in America.
If you have never seen a performance by Aunt Pearlie Sue and the Gullah Kinfolk, you are definitely missing out on seeing some of the finest talent known in the lowcountry. Their show will leave you mesmerized…do yourself a favor and buy a ticket to their next performance. You will not be disappointed.