“Because of the drum, that’s why I can be here today.
“I remember the time I struggled in Haiti. A lot of people used to talk bad about the culture, the roots. But today is going to be my day, with my culture.
“All the friends I have, they’re like my family. The candle. You don’t light the candle for nothing. You light the candle for something deeply. And you don’t put water on the ground for nothing. The time I used to light the candle and look at the miwa (mirror), a lot of people thought Augustin is crazy. Augustin is not crazy. The time I come to New York, 1972, I have one candle. I light one candle. But that candle, it was my family.”
Frisner Augustin, reflecting on his life journey just after winning the National Heritage Fellowship. From the soundtrack of video shot by Kesler Pierre, September 28, 1999, in the Main State Buiding of the United States Department of State.
Congress created the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1965. Among its other goals, NEA aims to foster the diversity that exists within and among our communities. The Folk & Traditional Arts program, in particular, pursues this last goal as it supports grassroots arts and culture across the land. The program established its National Heritage Fellowships in 1982. To date, the agency has honored some four hundred traditional artists. In 1999 Frisner Augustin became the first Haitian-born artist to receive the award. The other twelve honorees in ’99 practiced arts ranging from boat building to tap dancing to tabla drumming (the noted Zakir Hussein). Frisner felt himself in good company and made quick friends.
The NEA brought the maestro to the nation’s capital in September to receive the fellowship—which consisted of a large certificate (seen in the photo above) and a generous cash award. The award ceremony would take place on a Tuesday, September 28, but Frisner, his son Garry, and I headed for DC the weekend before. Friends Flaubert Anoza, Kesler Pierre, and Luckner Salvador joined us before Tuesday. Frisner would repeat many times over the next days that he was delighted to have an “entourage”—a family—to share his happiness. On the day of the ceremony Congressman Major Owens took us all to lunch in the Congressional cafeteria, and the Haitian embassy invited us for a reception the next day. The family grew when Makandal artists arrived to support Frisner in a concert at George Washington University Thursday night.
In all, I came home with two hours of video. The seven-and-a-half minutes you see below selects from the various activities of Frisner’s “day” and the days surrounding it. Watch Frisner receive his award from Bill Ivey, Chair of the NEA at that time. Listen to a snippet of Hillary Clinton’s congratulatory speech. Join us at the banquet as we wined and dined, and follow Frisner as he toured the lavish hallways of the Department of State building. Finally, catch a bit of Makandal on stage as it rehearsed for the grand finale.
This is just a taste of what we have gathered so far in the Frisner Augustin Memorial Archive. You can help us to finish the massive project by making a tax-deductible contribution here. Remember that the archive is for you and for the future. Many thanks!
Credits (from the top
Featured photo: Detail from photo of Frisner Augustin holding his award, taken in the House Agriculture Committee meeting room, Rayburn Building, Washington DC, September 28, 1999. From the personal collection of Frisner Augustin, photographer unknown
Full version of featured photo. See description above.
Photo of Frisner’s entourage in a ballroom of the Main State Building (now, the Harry S. Truman Building) of the United States Department of State, September 28, 1999. From the personal collection of Frisner Augustin, photographer unknown. From the left, Kesler Pierre, Lois Wilcken, Frisner Augustin, Flaubert Anoza, Garry Augustin, and Luckner Salvador
Video shot during Frisner Augustin’s Heritage Award events, venues including the Rayburn Building, the Main State Building, and George Washington University. Video shot by Lois Wilcken and Kesler Pierre, and edited by Lois Wilcken
Story by Lois Wilcken