Columbia, SC (WLTX) - South Carolina jazz legend Skipp Pearson has died, his foundation confirmed Tuesday.
Pearson passed away at the age of 79 Monday night from organ failure caused by a long battle with bone cancer. The Skipp Pearson Foundation says he was surrounded by family and friends.
Pearson, who was born in Orangeburg, had a long career in music, and worked alongside some of music's greats, including Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Wynton Marsalis and Patti LaBelle.
In his later years he could be found around Columbia performing at clubs, performing workshops, and working with his foundation on outreach events.
Pearson was a recipient of the state's highest honor, the Order of the Palmetto.
In lieu of cards, flowers and tributes 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
Here is the full tribute to Pearson released by his foundation:
Thales Thomas “Skipp” Pearson was born on Sunday November 21, 1937 in Orangeburg, South Carolina in his grandparent’s parlor to Alfred Tucker Pearson and Louise Teresa Corbin.
Early in childhood Ambassador Pearson exhibited a very strong ability to learn and to play music. Given his family’s involvement in music, Alfred Tucker Pearson, his father played the Saxophone and was considered an accomplished vocalist. Louise Pearson, his mother was considered an extraordinary classical pianist, James T. Corbin, his grandfather was a self-taught guitar player and grandmother sang in the local church choir, throughout Ambassador Pearson’s youth his world was filled with music.
The man who would become a Jazz icon and living legend began his life-long career in music at the tender age of eight. The story goes, Ambassador Pearson loved baseball, and as young boys will do in summer he wanted to play. On that particular afternoon it seemed that all of his friends were engaged. On the way to the baseball field to find someone to play with young Thales was able to catch up a friend by the name of George Greene who was on his way to his weekend music lesson. Thales asked George if he would play ball with him. George replied that he would do so after he had fulfilled this commitment to his mother to take a music lesson. Thales asked if he might go along to save some time so that he might be able to play right after the lesson. George agreed and off they went to the home of Horace Ott. When George was done Young Thales was so interested in the music lesson that if forgot about the baseball game and spent the time talking with Mr. Ott about music. He asked Mr. Ott if he would teach him to play the Saxophone. Mr. Ott replied that he would and informed young Thales what was needed to begin his training, an instrument and fifty cents per lesson. Thales knew that he would not be able to get an instrument right away so he asked Mr. Ott if it would be alright if he shared George’s instrument. All parties agreed and that afternoon Skipp Pearson’s early training in music began.
Over the years that passed Thales Thomas become the incredible Skipp Pearson, joining the United States Air Force in 1956 at the age of nineteen and later the Army National Guard. As his career bloomed he played for four American Presidents, Kings and Queens of Europe, Statesmen and Royals of the world.
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 many, many more.
Skipp Pearson holds a bachelor’s degree from Claflin University in Music Education. 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. 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.
Over the years Skipp Pearson has 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 fore front of Skipp Pearson’s lifelong mission to preserve and to continuingly nurture America’s only original gift to the world of music.
Throughout his life Skipp Pearson has been presented with more than thirty awards of recognition which includes being inducted into the South Carolina State University (SCSU) Jazz Hall of Fame in 1998.
In addition, in honor of his public service Skipp Pearson has received the keys to the City of Columbia on four occasions, along with the key to the City of Charleston, and the City of Orangeburg once. In honor of his commitment to the continued preservation and development of Jazz music Skipp Pearson has also received countless honors and recognition from across America. Skipp Pearson has been honored at Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center.
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. It should be mentioned here, 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 life-time of public service.
Skipp Pearson is a Jazz Master known throughout the world, a National Treasure.
Ambassador Pearson (Pops) leaves two sisters, eight brothers, fifteen children, twelve grandchildren, twenty nieces, and nephews along with countless other family members, friends, and patrons. Most important is the living legacy of Jazz Music that will continue.
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