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Program will celebrate Jefferson High’s influence on the arts

April 27, 2017 GMT

CLEARWATER — The former Jefferson High in Bath integrated with the former Langley-Bath-Clearwater High in the early 1970s, but the school’s influence on its students through song, instrumental music, painting, poetry and the other fine arts lives on today.

Alumni and friends of the predominantly African-American school, which was open from 1956 to 1970, will showcase that influence Saturday with “Celebrating the Arts: The Jefferson High School Legacy.” The program, sponsored by the Jefferson High Alumni Association, will begin at 3 p.m. at Old Storm Branch Baptist Church at 165 Storm Branch Road, North Augusta. Admission is free. Offerings will be accepted.

During the program, former students and friends will perform and talk about the impact Jefferson High’s fine arts curriculum on their lives.

The fine arts education Judith Fennell Ruffin, a graduate of Jefferson’s class of 1962, received at the school launched her career as a music educator in Area 3 schools for 30 years. Her first teaching job was at Jefferson, where her father, Herman W. Fennell, was the school’s one and only principal. She also taught at LBC and Clearwater and Warrenville elementary schools.

Ruffin said her father believed in educating the whole child.

“That meant he supported the arts, and each of us here has a story of how even just a little word of encouragement helped us to know that what we were doing was important,” said Ruffin, who will emcee the program.

Now, Ruffin said, she and other alumni want to encourage a new generation.

“We want to say look at us, senior citizens, some of us, who have had experiences throughout our lives in the arts and it made a difference,” she said. “We want to help young people to develop in their endeavors and value their arts experiences.”

Presenters of all ages will represent a variety of arts during the program.

Mickey Murray, who will sing, went to Schofield High in Aiken but Jefferson’s band director, Raymond Dean, helped him make the transition from gospel singer to rock ’n’ roll and soul entertainer. He had hits with “Shout Bamalama” and “Lonely Room” and traveled with Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and others.

Barbara Bush’s interest in art started with classes at Jefferson. Today, Bush, class of 1964, also is a poet.

The Rev. Elroy Wilson, who started in the band at Jefferson, will direct the Jefferson High Legacy Choir.

Wilson, pastor of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Jackson and Jefferson class of 1966, wanted to play drums. When he got to Jefferson, however, the band director wanted him to play the sousaphone. The instrument didn’t inspire him until Principal Fennell heard him practicing with the marching band.

“He came up to me and said I heard the sousaphone for the first time in the band,” Wilson said. “I was enthused. I took it home and learned it. And when I really learned it, I loved it.”

Wilson also plays piano by ear and still plays for his church.

Professional ventriloquist Tawanna Kelly will bring her puppet pal, Joy. Kelly attended Jefferson Elementary School, which Jefferson High became.

Dr. Marsha F. Harris, class of 1962 and Ruffin’s twin sister, said Jefferson High was a small school “but we had a major impact.”

“It was not just for teachers and students. It was for teachers, parents and students all together. Everybody made a contribution,” she said. “We would like to see our community go back to that and influence students in a positive and personal way today.”