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Two NEA National Heritage Fellowships go to Maryland Groups

Two NEA National Heritage Fellowships go to Maryland Groups


Two NEA National Heritage Fellowships go to Maryland Groups

June 25, 2014Press Release

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu today announced the 2014 recipients of the NEA National Heritage Fellowships, the nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.

The Singing and Praying Bands of Maryland and Delaware and The Holmes Brothers, a blues, gospel, and R&B band, are among only eight recipients of the annual award, both with Maryland ties.

“We congratulate both recipients for their significant contributions to the cultural and artistic fabric of our state and country,” said Theresa Colvin, executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC). We are honored to know and support these artists through Maryland Traditions, our statewide folklife program.”

The form of religious worship practiced by The Singing and Praying Bands of Maryland and Delaware encompasses one of the oldest and most historic African-American performance traditions still active today, predating gospel, blues and jazz.

According to oral tradition, the bands began with secret outdoor meetings in antebellum times. Later, this tradition became a part of Methodist prayer meetings that began with lined-out hymns (singing initiated by a leader who would chant a song line to a congregation that would sing it back) and concluded with a form of ring shout that blended West African traditions of song and movement in a circle. Currently, the singing and praying band tradition is found only in tidewater Maryland and Delaware.

In 2011 the Singing and Praying Bands began to share its tradition with audiences outside the church setting at public events such as the Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival, the Kennedy Center, and the Library of Congress. In 2011, the group received the Maryland Traditions ALTA (Achievement in Living Tradition and Arts) Award from the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC).

Watch The Singing and Praying Bands of Maryland and Delaware Perform at Common Ground on the Hill Festival.


Wendell Holmes of The Holmes Brothers lives in Rosedale, Maryland. In the 1960’s, he joined his brother Sherman in New York City to perform together and with a variety of bands. With the addition of drummer Willie "Popsy" Dixon, The Holmes Brothers were formed in 1980. The group went on to become role models and mentors to younger aspiring musicians, including Joan Osborne and members of Blues Traveler.

The Holmes Brothers have toured internationally, performing with artists such as Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, Odetta, Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, and Levon Helm. In 2005, they won Band of the Year from the Blues Foundation, followed by the Soul Blues Album of the Year in 2008 for State of Grace. Their latest album, Brotherhood, was released in 2014.

Wendell Holmes was the recent recipient of an MSAC Maryland Traditions Apprenticeship Award to support an apprenticeship with Brooks Long, a young soul singer from West Baltimore. Apprenticeship grants are designed to help pass living traditions down to future generations.

Watch the Holmes Brothers in an NPR Tiny Desk Concert.


The 2014 NEA National Heritage Fellows will be honored at an awards ceremony on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 and a concert at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium on Friday, September 19, 2014. Both events will be open to the public and the concert will be streamed live at More information, including how to obtain free tickets to the concert, will be available later this summer.

About NEA Heritage Award Winners
The National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowships were launched in 1982 under the guidance of Bess Lomax Hawes, then director of the Folk Arts Program at the NEA, to pay tribute to the nation’s foremost practitioners of traditional arts. Nominated by individual citizens and selected by a panel of cultural specialists, fellows receive a one-time award of $25,000. The National Heritage Fellowships are the most prestigious honor in the folk and traditional arts in the United States. Eight awards are made annually. Today over 350 tradition bearers have been recognized for their commitment to their art form— sometimes facing great obstacles— and for their interest in furthering the traditional arts. A ninth award – The Bess Lomax Hawes Award – was introduced as part of the Heritage Fellowships in 2000, and is given annually to individuals who have greatly benefited their artistic tradition or enhanced the public visibility of folklife.

Maryland Recipients of the NEA Heritage Awards

1983 – Lem Ward, Decoy carver/painter (Crisfield, MD)
1986 – Khatna Peou, Cambodian Court Dancer/Choreographer (Silver Spring, MD)
1986 – Ola Belle Reed, Appalachian banjo picker/singer (Rising Sun, MD)
1998 – Apsara Ensemble, Cambodian traditional dancers and musicians (Fort Washington, MD)
1998 – Harilaos Papapostolou, Greek Byzantine chanter (Potomac, MD)
2001 – Hazel Dickens, Appalachian singer-songwriter (Baltimore/WV/DC)
2001 – Joe Wilson, Folklorist, advocate, and presenter (Silver Spring, MD/Trade, TN)*
2004 – Chum Ngek, Cambodian musician and teacher (Gaithersburg, MD)*
2005 – Chuck Brown, African-American musical innovator (Go-Go) (Brandywine, MD)
2007 – Roland Freeman, Photo Documentarian, Author, and Exhibit Curator (Baltimore/DC).*
2009 – Mike Seeger, musician, cultural scholar, and advocate (Baltimore & Silver Spring/Lexington, VA)*
2011 – Warner Williams, Piedmont Blues Songster (Gaithersburg, MD)
2012 – Mike Auldridge, Dobro player (Silver Spring, MD)
2014 – The Singing and Praying Bands of Maryland and Delaware, African-American religious singers
2014 – The Holmes Brothers, Blues, gospel, and rhythm and blues band (Saluda, VA/Rosedale, MD)

*Bess Hawes Lomax Award recipient

More information about the NEA National Heritage Fellowships.

About the Maryland State Arts Council 
The mission of the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC), an agency of the Maryland Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts, is to encourage and invest in the advancement of the arts for the people of Maryland. The latest economic impact report shows that MSAC grantees' activities support more than 12,700 full-time equivalent jobs and generate $1.07 billion in economic activity and $48 million in state and local taxes.




Media Contact: 

Kate McMillan, Communications Manager, 410-767-8851.