Chubby Checker lights up Fort Mill Heritage awards

dthackham@fortmilltimes.comNovember 11, 2013 

— A man, his smile beaming from cheek to cheek, entered the stage at The Barn on Regent Parkway late Saturday night. His gait was slow, but purposeful; calm, but confident.

Then, the smile turned into a wiggle, with glee spreading from his face to his hips, and for the fifth decade running, he began to do “The Twist.”

Singer-songwriter and 1960s music legend Chubby Checker had arrived.

With every appearance, Checker lit up a standing-room-only crowd that packed The Barn to be a part of the taping of the third Artists Music Guild Heritage Awards. As the honorary host for the night, he and AMG president David L. Cook presented several music legends with Lifetime Achievement awards, including pianist Dino Kartsonakis (“Chariots of Fire”) and singers Terri Gibbs (“Somebody’s Knockin’) and Naomi Sego of gospel group Naomi and The Segos.

Even Chubby got one.

“I’ve been so fortunate throughout my career to work with the best in the music field, and tonight is no different,” said Checker, an S.C. native.

Rhythm and blues artist Dee Dee Sharp (“Mashed Potato Time”), who was on hand for a surprise guest performance, presented Checker with his award, as Cook said he didn’t “feel worthy to present it to [him].” Sharp, a recording professional since the early 1960s, worked with Checker on a highly successful single, “Slow Twistin’,” which hit No. 3 in the Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 hits.

The Artists Music Guild is the brainchild of several corporate CEOs who hope to keep younger artists from being taken advantage of in the music industry. They provide quality video production, staffed teams, professional tax services and legal help to all members.

“We wanted to have a safe haven for the artists,” said Cook, a seven-time Emmy Award winner and member of the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame. “Every artist knows they can get help here, so they don’t have to be a part of predatory practices. In three short years, look at what we’ve done and it’s only going to get better.”

Fort Mill-based dance troupe “The Eddie Mabry Dancers” was awarded 2013 Dance Group of the Year, while Stella Parton (sister of Dolly) was given the Author of the Year award. Greer native and one-time “American Idol” contestant Dylan Arms accepted his awards for New Artist and Male Vocalist of the Year, while contemporary Christian singer Cindy Hughlett was awarded Female Vocalist of the Year honors.

The Heritage Awards have taken place in Fort Mill since 2011, but moved to The Barn this year. If the event keeps growing, it might one day need a larger venue, officials said.

“We’re hoping that in the next few years, it’s big enough that we can move these awards to an even bigger place than Fort Mill,” said AMG board member Phillip Irish. “That’d be just great.”

After the show, Checker stayed and spoke with artists, young and old, backstage. The 72-year-old is a native of Spring Gulley in Williamsburg County. Prior to the awards, he had never been to Fort Mill, but said he was excited to be back “home” in S.C.

“I’m just so thrilled to see these young kids play with such passion and love,” he said. “It’s just great to see that in the next generation. That’s what it’s all about.”

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