Augusta's Black Arts History

Written by: Heather Dunaway
Jan 2024

The below information is shared in celebration of those who have contributed to the cultural arts growth in Augusta’s River Region. As a representative of arts and culture for the Augusta area, the Arts Council finds it important to recognize the contributions of our African American artists, neighbors, friends and family. The City Gallery annually features the Augusta Black History Exhibition which includes the Mayoral Collection of Black History. You can find information on the 2024 showcase, which also features the art of local creator Devin Lovett, here.


Every February, the U.S. honors the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who have helped shape the nation. Black History Month celebrates the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are an indelible part of our country’s history. The below information is in no particular order. If you have a person in mind for this series, please email Heather at [email protected] !

 Frank Yerby – Author  

Frank Yerby was an auspicious author, writing numerous novels, short stories and poems. He was born in Augusta, GA in September of 1916, just a few months after the Great Fire.


As a child, Yerby attended Augusta’s Haines Institute, a private school for African Americans founded by Lucy Laney, from which he graduated in 1933. In 1937, he went on to graduate from Paine College with a B.A. in English, and earned his M.A. in Dramatic Arts from Fisk University in 1938.


He is most known for his novels The Foxes of Harrow (1946) and The Golden Hawk (1948), both of which were turned into films.

Anna Gardner Goodwin – Musician

Anna was born in Augusta, GA in 1874. She was the daughter of Daniel and Anna Gardner. Dan Gardner was remembered as “the March King of Augusta”, a cornet player who ran a Sunday afternoon concert series for black Augustans.


In her career as a musician, Goodwin both wrote and taught music. She assisted her husband in playing and leading music at Morehouse College.


Her published compositions include “I Will Follow Jesus” (1906), “Do Not Touch the Wine Cup” (1906), “Jesus Don’t Pass Me By” (1906), “Praise the Lord” (1906), “Tell the Story Everywhere” (1906), “Willing Workers” (1906), “Adalene” (1909), and “I’m Lonely Just for You” (1934).Her last composition, “Freedom to All March”, was written to commemorate the 1951 race riot in Cicero, Illinois.

Goodwin was included in the Black Women Composers”: A Century of Piano Music (between 1893 and 1990) published in 1992, with composition “Cuba Libre March” (1898).

Anna Gardner Goodwin passed away in 1959. She lives on through her music and her decendants. Some of whom became musicians themselves. Her great grandsons David E. Robinson III and Richard Robinson both became professional musicians and composers.

Butterfly McQueen – Actress

Born Thelma McQueen in Tampa, Florida in Jan 1911, Thelma lived with her mother in Augusta, Georgia after her parents separated. She had initally planned to become a nurse until a high-school teacher suggested that she try acting. McQueen studied with Janet Collins and danced with the Venezuela Jones Negro Youth Group. Around this time she acquired the nickname “Butterfly” – a tribute to her constantly moving hands – for her performance of the Butterfly Ballet in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

McQueen was appearing as a student in the Broadway comedy What a Life in 1938 when she was spotted by Kay Brown, a talent scout for David O. Selznick, then in pre-production for Gone With the Wind (eventually released in 1939). Brown recommended that

McQueen auditioned for the film. After Selznick saw her screen test, he never considered anyone else and McQueen was cast in the role that would become her most identifiable – “Prissy.” While the role is well known to audiences, McQueen did not enjoy playing the part and felt it was demeaning to African-Americans. Even though she had a speaking role in the film, he was unable to attend the film’s premiere because it was held at a whites-only theater.

She continued as an actress in film in the 1940s, and then moved to television and stage acting in the 1950s. McQueen was in the original version of the stage musical The Wiz when it debuted in Baltimore, Maryland in 1974. She played the Queen of the Field Mice, a character from the original L. Frank Baum novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. She went on to win a 1980 Daytime Emmy Award for her performance in the ABC Afterschool Special episode “Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid”.

Her final feature film role was in The Mosquito Coast (1986). Her final appearance was in the TV movie Polly, a reimagining of the Pollyanna story with an all-Black cast.

Butterfly McQueen passed away in December 1995 in Augusta, GA at the age of 84.

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, the Godfather of Soul, Mr. Dynamite, and Soul Brother No. 1:

James Joseph Brown – Musician


James Joseph Brown was an American singer, record producer, and bandleader. The central progenitor of funk music and a major figure of 20th century music. In a career that lasted more than 50 years, he influenced the development of several music genres. Brown was one of the first 10 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural induction in New York on January 23, 1986.


Brown was born on May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, South Carolina. At around the age of 4 or 5, he along with his family moved to Augusta, GA. He began singing in talent shows as a young child, first appearing at Augusta’s Lenox Theater in 1944, winning the show after singing the ballad “So Long”.

Such was the beginnings of a long and fruitful career as a musician and performer. James Brown’s impact on Augusta is well known. You can find murals he inspired throughout Downtown, Augusta. A section of 9th Street between Broad and Twiggs Streets, renamed “James Brown Boulevard”James Brown Blvd was named for him, as was the James Brown Arena. A life-sized bronze James Brown statuecan be found across from the August Common on Broad Street. The largest collection of James Brown memorabilia can be found in the Augusta Museum of History.

His family contiues his legacy through programs like J.A.M.P.

J.A.M.P. (JAMES BROWN ACADEMY OF MUSIK PUPILS) is a Musical, instrumental, initiative year-round hub designed for the youth to discover their musical ability to “Staying on the Good Foot.” Founded by the daughter of the Late “Godfather of Soul.” Deanna Brown-Thomas, this collaboration of various educational consultants and music educators across the country has formed this awesome melodic, educational academy.

Stantawn Kendrick – Saxophonist and Educator

A native of Thomson, GA, Stantawn Kendrick began showing interest in music at a very young age. Brought up by music from the 70s his father would play throughout the house and being active in the church planted seeds for him to pursue music later in life. He holds a bachelor’s in music from Valdosta State University and a master’s degree from William Paterson University. While attending William Paterson University he met and studied under Clark Terry who took him as a student with a bright future. Later Clark asked him to join his big band as well as his jazz quintet.


Stantawn went on to travel and perform with Clark for the next 5 years. He is the last saxophonist to frequently work and travel with Clark Terry.

He has been grateful to have the opportunity to perform and/or study with Clark Terry, Mulgrew Miller, Eric Reed, Russell Malone, Kenny Garrett, Joe Lovano, Don Braden, David Demsey, Marcus Printup, Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center as well as others. He is a saxophone instructor for the Phil Ramone Youth Orchestra. This program, funded by the late Phil Ramone and his family, gives less fortunate children the opportunity to study music with proper instruments at very young ages. He has been a constant church musician, studio musician and educator.

He has recently released his debut album entitled “No Longer Bound”. It is a body of work in which each piece is a reflection of hurt, pain, happiness, melancholy, peace and prayer. It represents people who experience these emotions when no one else knows. It expresses the will to break free from the mental chains of low self esteem, doubt, worry, fear and anxiety. It features Eric Reed (piano), Jacob Webb (bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums) with special guests Enoch Smith Jr., Karen Marie, and Angeleisha L. Rodgers.

Tyrone J Butler – Playwright, Founder of

the Augusta Mini Theatre

Butler is a native of Augusta, Georgia, and noticed a void in the art offering for the area youth. Because of this void, he founded Augusta Mini Theatre which became Augusta’s first community art school to focus on multi-art disciplines, under one roof. Since 1975, Mr. Butler has ensured that the artistic needs of the underserved students (grades 1-12) are met. Mr. Butler offered free classes at AMT for the first 5 years and continues to allow students to take classes even if they are unable to pay. Over the years, thousands have benefited from AMTs programs and services.

Mr. Butler has 2 published plays that are being produced by other youth art groups and schools around the U.S. and continues writing plays that target teens and youth dealing with such universal life skill issues as the importance of education,

consequences of alcohol and drug use, moving beyond the negative environment, making positive choices, anger management, self-esteem building, etc. Mr. Butler sees the importance of merging the arts and life skills to experience the creative self-expression that is inherent in the arts to become a more complete person. In honor of his mother, Mr. Butler began a college book scholarship providing enrolled Augusta Mini Theatre students with a 4-year college book scholarship.
A few of Mr. Butler’s Honors & Awards: The Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts 1984; Greater Augusta Arts Council Artist Award in 1993; Citizen of the Year Award 2015, “Stuff that Legends are made of” Award 2016. NAACP Humanity Award 2018, Champion for children Award 2018.

Jessye Norman – Opera Singer

Jessye Mae Norman was a world-renowned American opera singer and recitalist. She was able to perform dramatic soprano roles but refused to be limited to that voice type. A commanding presence on operatic, concert and recital stages, Norman was associated with roles including Beethoven’s Leonore, Wagner’s Sieglinde and Kundry, Cassandre and Didon by Berlioz and Bartók’s Judith. The New York Times music critic Edward Rothstein described her voice as a “grand mansion of sound.”
Norman was a student Lucy Craft Laney High School while she attended private voice lessons with Rosa Harris Sanders Creque who had been her music teacher. After graduating college, she traveled around the globe, performing and fostering more success. Later in life she performed at the 1996 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Atlanta, singing “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. This same year, the Jessye Norman Ampitheater on the Savannah River Walk in Augusta, Ga celebrated its grand opening.
A few years later in 2003, The Jessye Norman School of the Arts was founded by the Rachel Longstreet Foundation, Inc. and was funded in large part during its first year by its namesake, who was very involved in the life of the School.

Jessye Noman passed in 2019, but her musical and philanthropic legacy and passion carries on. In 2019, 8th St in Downtown Augusta was renamed the Jessye Norman Blvd. In 2020 The I-20 and Washington Road interchange in Augusta was renamed the Jessye Norman Memorial Interchange.

Quinton Aaron – Actor

Quinton Aaron was born in August of1984 in the Bronx, NY but grew up in Augusta, GA. He’s most known for his portrayal of Michael Oher in the 2009 film the Blind Side, co-starring alongside Sandra Bullock. Aaron actually made his film debut as Q in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind, starring Mos Def and Jack Black. He co-starred in an NYU thesis short film called Mr. Brooklyn with Al Thompson (Liberty Kid, A Walk to Remember), directed by Jason Sokoloff.

Aaron has also appeared in two episodes of the TV show Law & Order (Season 17, episode “Bling” as a bodyguard and episode “Fallout” as a bouncer and episode s11e17 “Disabled”).

He has been very active in Film and Tv productions, his most recent being the 2022 film, The Baby Pact, which is a American film written and directed by Matt Berman starring Haylie Duff. It is a sequel to the 2014 film The Wedding Pact.

In 2010, he was nominated for the Black Reel Awards, the BET Award, the NAACP Image Award, the Teen Choice Award, and the MTV Movie & TV Award. In 2017, he also received the International Christian Film Festival Award.

Ellis Johnson – Musician and Educator


Mr. Johnson studied choral conducting and piano with Emily Remington. His early career saw him teaching music and mathematics in the public schools of Richmond County.


Mr. Johnson later pursued a career is counseling and served as a counselor and consultant of the Richmond County School System. He and his wife. Ann’s love for music and the arts was always a driving force in their lives.

He eventually retired as the Director of Counseling Services of Aiken Technical College. Prior to his retirement, he sang with the Augusta Choral Society as a tenor and was often a featured tenor soloist. He was the first African American to serve as its president. He also sang with the Augusta Opera and was a soloist with the Augusta Symphony. In 1997, he was named Opera Man

of the Year. In 1998, he received the Greater Augusta Arts Council’s Annual Volunteer of the Year Award, and in 2007 he was awarded the President’s Award, in recognition of distinguished service to the arts community. After a long run of 20 years, he finally retired as music director of the Augusta Chorale in 2007. He also served on the board of directors of the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, where you can find the Ann and Ellis Johnson Gallery of Ellis Johnson.


Mr. Ellis Johnson passed in 2020, but he and his wife’s legacy as musicians, arts lovers and supporters carries on today. You can find a photo of Mr. Johnson and Jessye Norman singing at Mr. Johnson’s home during the holidays in the Mayoral Collection of Black History.

Shay Roundtree – Actor

Born in Augusta, Ga in 1977, Shay Roundtree began his early training as an actor by joining drama clubs in his hometown. He began his formal training as an actor at the Augusta Mini Theatre under the direction of Tyrone Butler and Judith Simon-Butler. After graduating from T. W. Josey High School in 1996, he went into professional acting.

While still attending college, Roundtree made his screen debut in the movie Drumline, starring Nick Cannon, Orlando Jones and Zoe Saldana. That movie, which was released in 2002, along with a television commercial appearance, qualified him to be a member of the Screen Actors Guild.

After attending college for three years at Clark Atlanta University, Roundtree decided to pursue his acting career full-time. He won the role of Junie Gatling on NBC’s Kingpin in 2003. He has also made appearances in popular shows and movies such as Everybody Hates Chris and Disney’s Let It Shine. His most recent work being in Disney’s The Villians of Valley View 2022 series.

Wycliffe Gordon – Musician


Wycliffe was born in Waynesboro, GA to a musical family. His father, Lucius Gordon, was a church organist at several churches in Burke County, Georgia. Wycliffe graduated in 1984 from Butler High School in Augusta. He performed in New York City as part of the McDonald’s High School All-American Band. He then studied music at Florida A&M, where he played in the marching band. He gained his love for Jazz at the age of 13, while listening to his Great Aunt’s record collection.


In 1995, Gordon arranged and orchestrated the theme song for NPR’s All Things Considered. In 2004, Gordon conducted the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in the premiere of his new, original score for “Body and Soul”, the 1925 silent film directed by Oscar Micheaux.

He has recently gained more worldwide popularity, being featured in South Australia’s Generations In Jazz 2016 and 2017, playing alongside artists such as James Morrison, Jazzmeia Horn, Gordon Goodwin and Ross Irwin among others. For over a decade, he has also worked with visual artist and educator Ligel Lambert on numerous collaborative projects.

His recent awards include the 2019 Sonny Award presented by Suncoast Jazz, the 2018 Presented with the “Louie Award” by the Louis Armstrong House Museum and the 2017 International Trombone Association Award, which recognizes the highest level of creative and artistic achievement.

You can find more on this local legend via his website:

Sala Adenike – Artist


The calling to visual arts began for Visual Artist Audrey “Sala Adenike” Jeter-Allen early in life. She credits many teachers along the way who encouraged her interest. While attending the Fiorello H. LaGuardia School of the Arts (aka the High School of Music and Art) as a music major, she was surrounded by the inspiration, influence and encouragement of visual arts students and teachers. Serious paintings began during those years. The disciplines of music and art have continued to be pivotal to her life throughout adulthood, including earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Visual and Performing Arts from the State University of New York Empire College. She spent 12 years as the visual arts teacher/art director at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts in Augusta, GA. Vibrant colors have become her trademark. Her technique incorporates bold colors often inspired by African motifs and rare photographs. The subject matter of her work often gives way to teaching opportunities about history, culture and the unlimited potential of the human spirit. Her creative

series include: Outta My Mind; the Ancient Lineage; And Yet We Ascend; Where the Central Savannah River Flows; Adinkra symbols; Masked Tradition; and Drawn to Draw. Her work have been exhibited at her alma mater Vassar College, the Medical College of Georgia, Paine College, the Cotton Exchange Museum, Lucy Laney Museum, Empire State College, Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art, the Humanitree House ” Sala” Art Gallery, 600 Broad Gallery and in the City Gallery. Many of her paintings are in private collections as well. She was also the first to bring African Dance to the Augusta Area and the owner of the first cultural shop Ambassa Gift Shop.


The Golden Blocks Legacy Mural, by Audrey Sala Adenike Jeter Allen is located on the front of the old Pilgrim Insurance Annex Building. It highlights four prominent residents of the Golden Blocks and institutions and Adinkra symbols associated with their life’s work. This mural is made possible by the support and permission of the property owner, Mrs. Dee Crawford

Kristie Robin Johnson – Author and Educator

Kristie Robin Johnson is an educator, essayist, and poet from Augusta, GA. She is the current Chair of the Department of Humanities at Georgia Military College’s Augusta campus where she is an Assistant Professor of English. A graduate of the MFA Creative Writing program at Georgia College and State University, Kristie’s writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, AWP honors, and has received other awards and recognition, and has been published in numerous literary magazines, journals, and anthologies.

She also recently completed a series of poems titled “The Golden Blocks” as a part of a Greater Augusta Arts Council and NEA funded grant project with the Lucy C. Laney Museum of Black History in Augusta. Her first book, High Cotton, will be released in 2020 by Raised Voice Press.

Kristie Robin Johnson has lived nearly her whole life in small town Georgia, as did five generations of African American women before her beginning with a slave, her oldest known ancestor.

In High Cotton, Johnson explores the social and economic consequences of her lineage, drawing on her experience as a post–civil rights era, post–women’s liberation, pre-millennial black woman to illuminate the lived reality of a daughter of the Deep South, in the process conjuring universal truths every reader will recognize. You can find High Cotton in local bookstores and online!

Khary Payton – Actor

Khary Payton was born in Augusta, GA in 1972. He is known for his roles as King Ezekiel on the AMC horror drama series The Walking Dead (filmed in GA) and Dr. Terrell Jackson on the soap opera General Hospital, as well as voicing Cyborg across various DC media and Kaldur’ahm / Aqualad in the animated series Young Justice.

Khary has done much voice acting. He has portrayed Cyborg in both Teen Titans animated series and Aqualad in Young Justice. In the cartoon series Justice League, Payton provided the voice of the villain Ten from the Royal Flush Gang. He also provided the voice of Drebin in the game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Ripcord in G.I. Joe: Renegades, Blade in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Grimlock in Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Quinn Derringer in République and Killer Croc in Batman: Arkham Underworld and voiced Wasabi on the Disney XD original series Big Hero 6: The Series based on the Marvel Comics by Man of Action. He also did voice acting in episodes of Disney’s Proud Family, Scooby-Doo and Guardians of the Galaxy.

He’s also had roles in episodes of Walker Texas Ranger, JAG, Hannah Montana, How I Met Your Mother, Criminal Minds and more.

Khary has proven himself a diverse actor. He has been nominated for Best Male Vocal Performance in a TV Series in a Guest Role – Action/Drama (2014), Best Male Lead Vocal Performance in a TV Series (2015) in the BTVA Voice Acting Awards and Best Supporting Actor on a Television Series two years in a row (2018 -2019) for his role in the Walking Dead at the Saturn Awards.

Empress of Cool: Karen Gordon – Musician


Born in Waynseboro, GA, Karen Gordon has many years as a musician, event coordinator, music manager, and Augusta Cheerleader under her stylish belt. With her versatile degree in Public Relations, she has been able to implement, locally, many amazing arts and community events.


She has been a supporter of the arts for many years and is the co-founder of Growing Augusta: Arts, Agriculture, & Agency. They are a collective of farmers, artists, and community builders acting as agents of change. Their mission is to create a food oasis in South Richmond County. She herself works on multiple fronts, taking special interest in bettering the greater Augusta community.


She started her business, Garden City Jazz, back in 2003, after a long and fruitful partnership with The City of Augusta in producing and promoting Candlelight Jazz, a small concert series during the summer which featured local musicians and artists. 

Over the course of ten years, the Garden City Jazz team promoted several mainstage performances, an annual Masters Week block party, a full complement of arts events over Labor Day Jazz Weekend, a quarterly magazine, and myriad concert series.


You can find more on Karen’s work on her website :

Laurence Fishburn – Actor

Laurence Fishburne was born on July 30, 1961, in Augusta, GA. He is a three-time Emmy Award and Tony Award winning actor known for his roles on stage and screen. He is known for playing Morpheus in The Matrix series (1999–2003), Jason “Furious” Styles in the John Singleton drama film Boyz n the Hood (1991), Tyrone “Mr. Clean” Miller in Francis Ford Coppola’s war film Apocalypse Now (1979), and “The Bowery King” in the John Wick film series (2017–present).

For his portrayal of Ike Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993), Fishburne was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in Two Trains Running (1992), and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance in TriBeCa (1993). Fishburne became the first African American to portray Othello on film when he appeared in Oliver Parker’s 1995 film adaptation of the Shakespeare play. He has also received five Screen Actors Guild Award nominations. He

received an Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead nomination for his performance in Deep Cover (1992).
Other film credits of Fishburne include Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985), Spike Lee’s School Daze (1988), Abel Ferrara’s King of New York (1990), Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River (2003), Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011), and Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying (2017). He has also gained a wider audience with the blockbuster films Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018). On television, he starred as Dr. Raymond Langston on the CBS crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2008–2011), as Special Agent Jack Crawford in the NBC thriller series Hannibal (2013–2015), and as Earl “Pops” Johnson in the ABC sitcom Black-ish (2014–2022). He is currently starring in the Broadway revival of David Mamet’s play American Buffalo alongside Sam Rockwell and Darren Criss.

Baruti Tucker – Artist and Gallerist

Born in Staten Island, NY, Baruti Tucker is an artist, mentor and business owner in Augusta, GA with works in private and public collections stretching from Georgia to NYC. In his work, he often depicts people of predominantly African descent in environments that complement their existential potency on a global level.
Baruti created his own method of painting after a stent at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, NY, called the “Ahfingah” method (using his hands, instead of a brush). After working this way on several artworks, Baruti found he felt a better connection to his creations.

Baruti, along with several other local artists and creatives created the New Urban Black Artists’ Guild organization, or NUBAG. A name that derives from the song “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” by the late James Brown. This group is open to all artists

including visual artist, singers, musicians, fashion designers, graphic designers, dancers, poets, spoken word artists, models, photographers, rug designers, screen writers and authors. This group accomplishes community outreach with other organizations and events such as J.A.M.P., Arts in the Heart of Augusta, Golden Blocks Project/ Laney Walker Museum of Black History and the KUUMBA Art Market.

NUBAG has recently been contracted to paint a mural at Hornsby Middle School and recently hosted an Afro intelligence arts exhibit on Sunday February 26th at Humanitree House, which Baruti co-owns with his wife Denise.

Humanitree House is Augusta’s first organic & vegan fresh-pressed juice joint, which officially opened in 2014 on 8th St. in Downtown Augusta, GA. Here you can find cold-pressed juices, delicious vegan food options, and smoothies. Humanitree also operates as an Baruti’s Art Studio, a community event space and art gallery.
Recently, Bartui and wife Denise Tucker signed on with the Greater Augusta Arts Council as an arts partner for Promenade & Paint Augusta’s Public Art.

Deanna Brown Thomas – Actress and Humanitarian

Deanna is a radio & TV personality, actress, entrepreneur, humanitarian and daughter of Mr. James Brown-The Godfather of Soul. Early in life Deanna learned the music industry by working with her dad and through her own career as a broadcaster and entrepreneur. In 1994, her father named her Executive Vice-President of James Brown Enterprises. A career in broadcasting prompted her dad to return to ownership and bought two radio stations, WERD in Atlanta, GA and WAAW in Augusta, GA which Deanna was Program Director and On Air Personality. Communications is a passion for Deanna as she has worked for other major broadcasting companies, Clear Channel, Radio One and CBS Affiliate WRDW. Deanna also made her acting debut on “New York Undercover” and “Blues Brothers 2000.”

As a humanitarian, Deanna has worked extensively with her church, Carpentersville Baptist Church where she is a Trustee and a member of the Christian Education Ministry. She works closely

with the Richmond County Health Department in Augusta, GA with many HIV/AIDES awareness events, youth centers and children shelters encouraging youth to stay in school and always be willing to get an education. Deanna is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. participating in many charitable fundraisers for youth development and serves on the Board of Directors for the Augusta Museum of History where she helped create the first museum exhibit on her dad. Deanna also founded the JAMES BROWN ACADEMY OF MUSIC PUPILS (J.A.M.P.) to give students music and performance opportunities while teaching the technical aspects of music study.

Russell Joel Brown – Actor and Performer

Russell is a veteran actor, singer, and dancer of the Broadway stage. He appeared on Broadway and international tours of Disney’s “The Lion King”, “Smokey Joe’s Café”, “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, “Big River” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’”. Also to his credit, he sang for the funerals of such luminaries as Thurgood Marshall, Arthur Ashe, Cab Calloway, and Dizzy Gillespie. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College.
Mr. Brown impacts the lives of children and adults alike by supporting Augusta area non-profits in raising much-needed funds. The Jessye Norman School of the Arts, Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, Colton Ballet Company, and many others have benefited from Mr. Brown’s fundraising concerts and appearances. His one-man show, From Mozart to Motown sold out the 850-seat Imperial Theater 5 times, guest appearances at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s “Star-Spangled 4th of July” and “Tuesday’s Music Live” concerts garnered standing room only audiences, and his tour de force performance as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in “Ragtime” was the talk of the 2019 theatrical season.

Reflective of his passion for pouring into the lives of young people, Russell Joel Brown developed and currently serves as Director of Boys With A Future, a world-class after school program for inner-city boys in academic and life crisis in the Harrisburg area of Augusta. This program seeks to revolutionize this underserved area through education, the only sure way out of poverty and into a fulfilling and well-rounded life.

Thank you Russell for all that you do for the Arts in our community!

Jerome Preston Bates – Actor


Jerome Preston Bates is an Augusta native and graduate of Lucy Craft Laney High School. Jerome graduated from Knoxville College. While there he was initiated into Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated.


Jerome continues to have a stellar career in acting and directing, both in movies and on stage. He is best known for his many roles in the Augusta Wilson series of plays, to
include Fences. He has also appeared in August Wilson’s Jitney, Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson at the Manhattan Theater Club which won a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. In Stick Fly, Directed by Kenny Leon at the Lyceum Theatre and August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, Directed by Lloyd Richards at the Walter Kerr Theatre.


He has also made appearances in TV/Film series’ Oz, All My Children, Law & Order, Third Watch, Lights Out, NYPD Blue, New York Undercover, Shaft 2000, Musical Chairs, It Runs in the Family,

The Out-of-Towners, Tio Papi, Peeples, and  Romeo and Juliet in Harlem. He was awarded six Audelco Awards, including Herald Loomis in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and the Carter G. Woodson Award. His photograph is included in the Mayoral Collection of Black History.

Karen Brown – Dancer

Karen Brown was born into a family of medical professionals and raised as one of seven children in Augusta, Georgia. She is an American ballerina, educator, répétiteur, ballet mistress and director. She is noted for her long career as a principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and as the first African-American woman to lead a ballet company.

At the age of 17, after having performed with Augusta Civic Ballet for five years, Colton took Brown to a ballet festival in Virginia to present her with new opportunities. There she was scouted by Arthur Mitchell’s co-founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem, Karel Shook, who invited her to join the company in New York.

Brown joined Dance Theatre of Harlem as an apprentice in 1973. Brown toured as a principal ballerina with DTH to Russia—as the first American company to visit the country after the fall of the Soviet Union—and on the company’s post-apartheid visit to South Africa.

In 2000 she was invited by the Oakland Ballet company’s board to assume leadership of the institution, making her the first African-American woman to direct a ballet company in history and the first African-American to run a formerly all-white led ballet company. Following Dance Theatre of Harlem’s suspension of operations in 2004, Brown was the only African-American artistic director of a ballet company in the world.

She joined University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory as an assistant professor in 2020 and remains teaching dance there today.
Brown currently runs a summer dance program at Sand Hills Community Center in Augusta, Georgia.

Trey McLaughlin – Composer and Performer

Trey M. McLaughlin was born in Augusta, GA on March 30, 1984. He graduated from John S. Davidson Magnet School in 2002. While in high school, Trey was a member of the non-profit, performing arts organization, Creative Impressions, serving as both President and Student Director of the organization from 1999-2002.

In 2014, Mr. McLaughlin began his international career, conducting a Master Class and performing at the L’Opéra de Massy in Massy, France. Since then, he has served as the guest clinician for several workshops abroad. In October of 2015, Trey conducted a 300-voice choir in Krakow, Poland, as the guest clinician of the annual 7x Festival. Trey was also afforded the opportunity to conduct a workshop and perform in Menorca, Spain; Rajadell, Spain; and Aarhus, Denmark. At home, Trey has been extended the honor of serving as the guest clinician for Honor Choruses throughout the state of Georgia.

Trey currently serves at Tabernacle Baptist Church of Augusta, Georgia. As Director of Worship and Arts, Mr. McLaughlin stewards and oversees 12 ministries and approximately 250 ministry volunteers. Mr. McLaughlin has taught as adjunct faculty at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, teaching graduate level courses where he continues his passion for writing and arranging music, teaching piano, and conducting classes in vocal technique.

As a performer, composer and arranger, clinician, educator, mentor and arts advocate, Trey McLaughlin is ambassador for the Augusta Arts community. As such, he was recognized by the Augusta Arts Council as its 2018 Artist of the Year. His international, national and local work in the arts continues to provide rich cultural, artistic experiences for all who encounter his programming.

Salonika Rhyne – Artist and Gallerist


Salonika is a painter, muralist, accessory designer and seamstress. As a painter, she does not limit herself to working with only canvas. Many of her beautifully designed handbags feature some of her original artworks.

Born in Alliance, Ohio but was raised in Augusta, GA, Salonika embodies all that it is to be a working-woman-of-color artist in Augusta. Her works often highlight the strength and beauty of women of color in saturated and bold hues while utilizing abstraction with low-country tropical themes.


While running her own gallery, Salonika still makes time for her commissions and artworks. Outside of her own space at Red Door Gallery (located at 859 Broad St. Augusta, GA), her works can be seen in private collections and businesses across the Augusta River Region.  You can find her murals in spaces such as The Burke County Recreation Center or Springfield’s Multipurpose Complex in Thomson, GA.

In the summer of 2022, Salonika created a mural on James Brown Blvd that depicted legendary black women educators, such as Ursula Collins, Justine Washington, and Rosa T. Beard.  All of these women were prominent figures in the Civil Rights Era and have made significant contributions to the city of Augusta as well as our country as a whole.


For more information on Salonika’s work, please visit her Instagram or website. If you are interested in learning more about the Golden Blocks please visit the Laney Walker Museum page here. For tours please visit this website.

Sharon Jones – Singer

Sharon Jones was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1956. She and her family had a home in North Augusta, South Carolina, where you can now find the Sharon Jones Ampitheater, named in her honor. The Jones family moved to New York City when Sharon was a young child. As children, she and her brothers would often imitate the singing and dancing of James Brown. Her mother happened to know Brown, who was also from Augusta.

Sharon was an active gospel singer for her church and often being backed by a funk band when she entered talent shows as a teenager and young adult in the 1970s. She got her mid-life career break in 1996 after she appeared on a session backing the soul and deep funk legend Lee Fields. The session was organized by Gabriel Roth and Philippe Lehman, then the owner of the then French record label Pure Records. Having completed all the backing parts herself, Roth and Lehman were impressed with her performance and recorded “Switchblade”, a solo track with Jones. This track and “The Landlord” were included on the Soul

Providers’ album Soul Tequila, released by Lehman on Pure circa 1996. The Soul Providers—with members of the Brooklyn bands Antibalas and the Mighty Imperials—later formed the Dap-Kings, who became Jones’s regular backing band.

In 2002, under the name Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, the group released the album Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, for which they received immediate attention and acclaim from enthusiasts, DJs and collectors. With three more albums under their belt, Naturally (2005), 100 Days, 100 Nights (2007) and I Learned the Hard Way (2010) they are seen by many as the spearhead of a revival of soul and funk. In 2014, Jones was nominated for her first Grammy, in the category Best R&B Album, for Give the People What They Want.

Jones died on November 18, 2016, in Cooperstown, New York, aged 60 after a battle with cancer. She is remembered as a lively and kind woman with incredible talent and drive.

Karlton T. Clay – Writer & Producer


Karlton Clay began writing at a very young age, but it
was his time at Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School in Augusta, GA that drove him to begin experimenting in production. Here he wanted to use his gift of writing as his career. However, on March 18th, 2002, at the age of 16, Karlton was diagnosed with acute lymphoma leukemia. Instead of succumbing to this terrible disease, the teenaged Karlton decided he would live and make a life for himself.


During his time in recovery, he was able to grow even closer to his family and his relationship with God strengthened. It was also during this time that Victory Productions was created. In spite of his struggles with his health, Karlton was able to graduate on time from DFA in 2004. He would go on to attend and graduate from Georgia State University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in film and television production.

In his adult life and career, under Victory Productions, Karlton has written, produced, and directed several theatre productions, short films, and 15 series including: College Daze (September 2007-January 2011), The Lyons Den (February 2012-March 2021), Karma (September 2014-April 2017), Lovers Lane (August 2015-December 2019), Color Blind (November 2015- February 2017), Ex-Factor (December 2016-June 2021), BrothAhood (January 2017-March 2022), Bondage (September 2017-present), Sweet Mahogany (February-December 2018), My Best Friend (March 2018-April 2021), In The Nick Of Time (July 2018-January 2023), Peace Be Steel (February 2019 August 2021), SistAhood (June-July 2019), The MAINE Way (January 2020-November 2022), and My Life (April 2020-October 2021).


As of January 2023, Karlton has written, produced, and directed 424 episodes. BrothAhood, Peace Be Steel, and My Life are available on Tubi. Since these productions, Karlton has written, directed, and produced a total of 15 feature films: Sweet Mahogany (2020) (Sweet Mahogany was picked up for distribution by Maverick Entertainment making it Karlton’s first feature length film), Reindeer Games (2020), Sweet Mahogany 2: Sweet Indulgence (2021), Redemption For Easter (2021), My Brother’s Keeper (2021), SistAhood (2021) – another series which was re-edited into a feature length film – The Assistant (2021) (The Assistant was distributed by ITN Studios), A Very Merry New Year (2021), Pastor Thorne: Lust Of The Flesh (2022), For The Love Of Christmas (2022), The Other Side Of Me (2023, ITN Studios), The Saved And The Salacious (2023), For The Love Of Christmas 2: A Heart For The Holidays (2023), Pastor Thorne 2: Sins Of The Father (2023), and A Kwanzaa Family Vacation (2024). All 15 films can be seen on FOX’s Tubi while 11 out of the 15 are available for streaming on NBC’s Peacock TV.


Karlton is also the author of a 4 book series entitled As The Earth Spins, which was published by Expand Knowledge and is available at He is also the author of two poetry books: Ebbs & Flows (2020) and Raw-N-UnKut (2022) – both titles are also available as EPs under the moniker KayCee Thee Poet on all digital platforms. In 2023, Karlton released Titan Warriors: The Alignment Of Power, which is the first book in an action-adventure book series, and the first issue of his first comic book series,


In addition to his writings, Karlton has also served as the founder and editor-in-chief of VPN MAG, which ran from 2018-2023, and is the producer and the host for the Celebrating Black Excellence 365 digital platform at WJBF News Channel 6.

Rege Lewis – Actor


Born De’Reginald Cornelius Lewis in Augusta, GA, this actor is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), where he earned an MFA in Performance. He also holds a certificate from the William Esper Studio, where he trained under the guidance of Bill Esper, who is revered as one of the most prominent acting teachers in the United States. Rege gained recognition for his guest star roles in FBI, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, Boardwalk Empire, and Chicago PD.


Rege’s acting journey began in Augusta, Georgia, thanks to his 12th-grade English teacher, Mrs. Diane Gilyard, who is attributed to guiding Lewis into local theatre.  In 2003, at the age of 30, after working and performing in Augusta for almost 12 years, he made the bold move to drive cross country to Hollywood, California. Within a short time, he signed with the Bob Waters Agency and secured a Guest Star role on CBS’ The Handler after just three auditions.

His career spans various mediums, including television, film, and theater. Notable roles include originating the character of Malcolm X in the Broadway-bound play Phenomenal Woman: Maya Angelou, directed by Jackie Alexander, and portraying ‘The Carjacker’ in 1:23, directed by Mark Wing-Davey. Rege was a part of the original cast of Suzi Lori-Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, TopDog/UnderDog, directed by George C. Wolfe. More recently, he played Godfrey Crump in Lynn Nottage’s Crumbs from the Table of Joy, directed by Clinton Turner Davis.


Rege’s accomplishments include receiving a Proclamation from Mayor Hardie Davis and the City of Augusta in 2015, designating June 15th as Rege Lewis Day. When not on set or in rehearsals, he dedicates his time to working with youth and young adults in higher education for the arts. He also holds a BA in Business, emphasizing the term “Show Business,” and serves as the founder and artistic director of the X Out Bullying with the AntiBullyingTeam, Inc., a stage play and initiative designed for grades 3rd-5th. Additionally, he’s the proud founder and CEO of I Act New York, a safe space acting academy for youth located in North Carolina.

Olivia Gaines feature Icon. Olivia is a woman of African American descent with a short black afro. She is wearing a pearl necklace and white shirt.

Cheryl Corbin / Olivia Gaines – Author


Cheryl Corbin, known also by her pen name Olivia Gaines is a USA Today Best Selling, Emma Award, and multiple award-winning author. As an author of contemporary romances, she writes heartwarming stories of blossoming relationships filled with heart and humor. The Technicians, The Blakemore Files, and the Modern Mail Order Brides are a favorite among fans.

Olivia is a Hephzibah based author, where she resided with her husband, grandson and “snotty evil cat,” Katness Evermean. She is an avid world traveler who writes many of the locations into her stories. Most of the time she can be found sitting quietly with pen and paper plotting more adventures in love.


She is the 2023 Winner of the Fiction: African American Best Book Award for her novel Blind Spot.