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How I Started Performing and Where I am Now

Updated: Feb 15

I began performing as a child. Numerous artists and events have influenced me, and you will witness snippets of each of them when I’m onstage.

The last of nine children born to Kathleen Grant Daise and Henry Daise of St. Helena Island, SC, I’m told that I’d serenade my older sister Catherine’s date with my rendition of Mahalia Jackson’s “How Great Thou Art” as he awaited her in the living room. Not the music he’d considered he’d be hearing, I’m sure. But the gospel singer’s delivery and stage presence captivated me as I watched “The Mahalia Jackson Hour” on TV with my parents each afternoon. And I wanted to share my joy with others.

I learned to be prepared. In elementary school, teachers would ask me to sing “the Mahalia Jackson song” to their students when I’d pass their rooms on my way to or from the restroom. The songs of my sea island homeland, I learned and sang a cappella at Brick Baptist Church and at Penn Center’s “Community Sings.” They ebbed and flowed, charmed and intrigued, like the waterways surrounding me, the stage presence of Harry Belafonte, and the vocalizations of Paul Robeson and Nancy Wilson.

The SC State College Henderson Davis Players’ annual performance tour of James Weldon Johnson’s “God’s Trombones” made me long to fill an empty stage with magic, power, and life. As did Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson, Dionne Warwick, and Luther Vandross.

I also channel the splendor and majesty of music by contemporary Christian vocalists Larnelle Harris, Steven Green, and Wintley Phipps. For this reason, I believe, during the first five or so Penn Center Heritage Days Festivals, I’d be called onstage to lead “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” even if I’d not been scheduled to do so.

My wife Natalie and I met a few years after I’d graduated from Hampton Institute and at the time, as she describes it, I’d become “the wedding singer.” As she’d accompany me to numerous weddings, I’d mirror the artistry of Roberta Flack, Heatwave, Larry Graham, and Peabo Bryson. At that time, I also performed pop songs and recitations of African American writings at community gatherings and community theater productions with the Hilton Head Island Community Playhouse.

So, soon after we wed, she proposed that we perform together, “like, you know, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.” And so, our husband-and-wife team performance history began.

We formed and sang with “Encouragement,” a group with Marvin J. Middleton (a cousin to each of us from both sides of his parentage), performing original contemporary Christian music. Upon the publication of my first book, Reminiscences of Sea Island Heritage, we scripted the book’s oral histories, songs, and historical photographs to a two-person cultural production called “Sea Island Montage.” We toured the country throughout 1992, introducing audiences to Gullah history and heritage, with a three-year-old in tow and an expectant newborn.

In late 1992 and early 1993, we met the creators, producers, and production team of what soon after became the award-winning Nick Jr. TV show, Gullah Gullah Island. We served as stars and cultural consultants for 70 episodes beginning in October 1994-1999, which was broadcast internationally. As testament to the show’s significance, it is featured in an exhibit at the newly opened International African American Museum, Charleston, SC. Its display is a testament to the numerous individuals, family members, and events that have influenced my wife (, and me, and the lives of the show’s producers, artists, musicians, et al.

Following the show’s end of production, Natalie, Binyah Binyah Polliwog (Justin Campbell), and I toured the country with Gullah Gullah Island Live. A newspaper reporter cited us as “The Smashing Pumpkins for the Preschooler Set” for our 90-minute, energetic, and colorful theatrical production in sold-out arenas.

Natalie joined me in 2001 when I drew on my childhood influences by Harry Belafonte, Luther Vandross, Larnelle Harris, and others in the creation and performance of Sweet Surprises, Christ-Centered Romantic Love Songs. I still receive comments from attendees about how much this “Feel Good Theatrical Celebration of Love, Friendship, Passion, and Joy” impacted their marriages, their relationships, their lives. Concert highlights are available at Sweet Surprises! Highlights - YouTube, and digital downloads of the 12 original songs are available at ‎Sweet Surprises! by Ronald Daise on iTunes (

I stand on the shoulders of giants. I walk in the light of God.

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