Legendary jazz musician, Midlands native Skipp Pearson dies

Legendary jazz musician, Midlands native Skipp Pearson dies

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Midlands native and legendary jazz musician Skipp Pearson passed away on Monday, according to his foundation in a post to his Facebook page Tuesday.

Thales Thomas "Skipp" Pearson was surrounded by friends and family when he passed away from organ failure due to complications caused by advanced bone cancer. He was 80 years old.

Pearson was born on Nov. 21, 1937, in Orangeburg. His family's love and skill of music allowed Pearson to pursue a career in music at an early age, choosing music over his other love - baseball. The instrument he chose was the saxophone, thus a career was born.

In his professional career, Skipp Pearson played with Otis Redding, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Art Pepper, John Lennon, Paul McCarthy, John Lamkin, Danny Harper, Terry Harper, Miles Davis, Chris Potter, Wycliffe Gordon, Wynton Marsalis, and others.

Pearson joined the Air Force in 1956 at 19 years old and later joined the Army National Guard. Pearson also holds a bachelor's degree from Claflin University in music education.

Pearson created a variety of public arts-in-education projects and programs that seek to build a greater appreciation for all forms of music. Jazz Music education has been at the forefront of Skipp Pearson's lifelong mission to preserve and to continuingly nurture America's only original gift to the world of music.

"Through the perilous years of the structuring of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision Skipp Pearson created one of the oldest band music programs offered through the Public School System of South Carolina that still exists today," Pearson's foundation said. "Skipp Pearson designed a community-based program for Scotts Branch High School that still provides many students in Clarendon County with their first experience and exposure to music."

Throughout his life, Skipp Pearson has been presented with more than 30 awards of recognition which includes being inducted into the South Carolina State University Jazz Hall of Fame in 1998. He's also been honored at the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Center.

Pearson has also received the keys to the City of Columbia four different times, in addition to the key to the city of Charleston and Orangeburg.

In 2002 Skipp Pearson received a commendation by a resolution issued by the South Carolina State House of Representatives and embraced by the Senate that he "act as the official Ambassador of Jazz Music in honor of his extraordinary contributions to the State and the world of jazz music. The first Ambassador of Jazz music for South Carolina was Dizzy Gillespie.

In 2003, and then again in 2006 Skipp Pearson was awarded additional commendation by the South Carolina Legislator to congratulate him on his outstanding career and accomplishments,". Also awarded to Skipp Pearson in 2003, the coveted Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award for the Arts in the category of Individual Performing Artist. In a letter of recommendation for the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award for the Arts, Wynton Marsalis wrote:

In the artistic community, someone who has achieved 'super special' status as a jazz musician is referred to as a 'local legend.' The local legend is a repository of unrecorded history, a hands-on educator, a personal mentor to aspiring artists and above all, a first-rate performer. In Columbia, South Carolina, that man is Skipp Pearson. " Skipp embraces the highest ideals of American democracy through the art of jazz. When I have had the opportunity to share the bandstand with Mr. Pearson, his big-blues-drenched tenor saxophone resonates with the true meaning of Southern hospitality.

In 2016 former Governor the Honorable Nikki R. Haley awarded Skipp Pearson the distinguished Order of the Palmetto, the highest honor the State of South Carolina bestows on a citizen, gratitude for a lifetime of public service.

Pearson leaves two sisters, eight brothers, 15 children, 12 grandchildren, 20 nieces, and nephews along with countless other family members, friends, and patrons. Most important is the living legacy of Jazz Music that will continue.

In lieu of cards, flowers and tributes Ambassador Pearson had requested before passing that contributions be made to the Skipp Pearson Jazz Foundation to help sustain and to continue his mission for Jazz Music in South Carolina and across America.

Monetary contributions can be made on-line at https://skipp-pearson-memoria.eventbrite.com

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