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From one performance, a festival bloomed

By Carrie Humphreys
Coastal Observer

Time to stir things up a bit.

Organizers of the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art have made some dramatic changes in programming to celebrate its 20th year. The mix of film, artworks and music add new dimension to the annual tribute to the cultural arts.

"Although the musical lineup is similar to the past, this year we've incorporated a large visual arts component," said Fred Newby, who chairs the festival board. "The art component was something our festival founder, Dr. Lee Minton, said he liked to see in the festival, but in recent years the visual arts were kind of dropped. This year they've returned with a vengeance. I think Lee would be very happy about our programming this year."

The first music festival in 1991 was a single event, fueled and funded by Minton. The program, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, held at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, had an overwhelming response, launched the festival and many future nights of music.

The following year, Minton's foundation sponsored two musical programs, a Moravian choir presentation and a baroque and romantic music concert, held at All Saints Church.

In 1993, the festival was extended and each year since has become a more established and anticipated community cultural event. Subsequent programs over the past 20 years have featured symphonies and big bands, chorales and soloists, plus concerts of bluegrass, jazz, gospel and opera. Dancers and puppeteers have entertained and local artists were highlighted.

Performers have ranged from talented local youth to international headliners.

The venues varied from parking lots to churches to museums to schools. In 1997, the open-air, under the stars programs at Brookgreen Gardens were initiated. This year most events will be staged at Litchfield Plantation.

Even with Minton's passing from cancer in 2002 at age 72, his handpicked, dedicated board persevered. The Minton Foundation still exists and supplements the expense of festival productions.

"Minton was such a visionary, so worldly, with such energy. I think if he were still here he would be delighted to see how much bigger and broader the festival has evolved," Newby said.

Those who knew Minton agree he was a unique force.

He was born in rural Baxter, Tenn., one of five children who grew up poor during the Depression.

He was never ordinary. He surged through school, was recruited into the FBI and worked for the agency for one year before returning to school and graduating from Tennessee Technical College with a business degree.

During the Korean War he served as a cryptanalyst for the National Security Agency with the rank of Army captain.

In 1964, he graduated with a medical degree from the University of Tennessee and began his own private ophthalmology practice in Nashville. Throughout his life, Minton, who never married, participated heartily in sports and the arts.

Following quadruple bypass surgery at age 50, Minton retired from medicine, simultaneously moving to two residences, one at Pawleys Island and one in London. Yet, Minton was equally happy nestled in his oceanfront Pawleys Island home.

He moved here permanently in 1997 and continued his role of impresario, founding groups such as the Pawleys Island Chamber Orchestra, the Waccamaw Strings and Youth MusicFest.

Mary Lu Norris served on Minton’s festival board and chaired the festival for three years. She described Minton as a colorful person with a particular passion for the arts, cooking, his two Dalmatian dogs and his two residences. She recalled how he nurtured young local talent and would travel to the Met auditions every year to seek out possible performers for the festival.

“He was cosmopolitan, but not arrogant. He loved music, particularly choral music,” Norris said. “And he loved to share his appreciation of music with others.”

Minton once explained his extraordinary drive in mentoring our local cultural arts.

"Pawleys Island has been good to me," Minton said. "This is a chance to do something for the community."

For a schedule of this year's Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art events, go to pawleysmusic.com.

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