Her recognition stems from “her untiring efforts to increase public awareness of the art, preserve traditional art forms, and for the significant originality of her life’s work.” Regan-Blake’s love for and interest in the lives of such local celebrities as the late Ray Hicks and family, as well as many others in the area she has supported and helped promote, has made her a “best friend” to traditional story-telling, as we know it in The High Country…
Connie Regan-Blake Receives Lifetime Achievement Award
By Sherrie Norris
Connie Regan-Blake, certainly no stranger to The High Country, was recently presented the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Storytelling Network in Pittsburgh, Penn.
As one of the first to bring storytelling to the national stage, Regan-Blake has been described as “a pioneer in the art of storytelling,” and is easily considered “one of America’s most celebrated storytellers,” having entertained audiences in 46 states and 14 countries. Her recognition stems from “her untiring efforts to increase public awareness of the art, preserve traditional art forms, and for the significant originality of her life’s work.”
Regan-Blake’s love for and interest in the lives of such local celebrities as the late Ray Hicks and family, as well as many others in the area she has supported and helped promote, has made her a “best friend” to traditional story-telling, as we know it in The High Country. While we have been fortunate to observe bits and pieces of her journey through spinning yarns and preserving this vital piece of traditional heritage, her latest achievement proves that the nation, as a whole, has been watching closely, as well.
With nearly thirty years experience in storytelling, she has performed on national and international stages, winning numerous awards for her Appalachian tales of humor and drama. She has been featured on “Good Morning America,” National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” and CNN’s Evening News. She has performed for hundreds of schools and organizations worldwide, including the nation’s top folk music and storytelling festivals in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, as well as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. Her groundbreaking collaboration with the Kandinsky Trio – an innovative blend of storytelling and chamber music – has been hailed as a “new art form.”
We can’t help but wonder where the annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN, would be today without her insight as a founding member, long-time board member and chair, as well as Artistic Director. Her continued appearances at the prestigious event captivate audiences from miles around; she has held the unique honor as the festival’s only storyteller to be on main stage as a featured teller or emcee each year during its lengthy history.
Other outstanding achievements to her credit include the Southern Artistry designation, Circle of Excellence Oracle Award from the National Storytelling Association, and recognition as Performer of the Year by the Mountain Dance & Folk Festival.
Regan-Blake has seven award-winning audio and video recordings including her latest CD, titled Dive Into Stories: A Telling Performance featuring true life Appalachian stories and traditional tales, including two bonus tracks from the National Storytelling Festival.
Upon receiving this most recent, once-in-a lifetime award, Regan-Blake shared, “I have always said ‘The storyteller has the best seat in the house!’ Over the last 35 years I have been given this amazing and intimate gift: thousands and thousands of listeners – one by one – have opened themselves to my stories. When I think of using language to express what storytelling has meant to me, I am reminded of an African saying “aboka lam.” It is a proverb from the Acholi Tribe in Uganda which translates literally as “trying to describe light.” It means that although you can hear my words you can not know the depth of this feeling in my heart. But maybe you can. I am profoundly grateful.”
Her award was accepted with great appreciation to her “fire-keepers” – those, she said, “Who have shone a light for me and encouraged me along my true path,” naming Barbara Freeman, her cousin and storytelling partner for 20 years; Jimmy Neil Smith “who has been like a brother;” and Ray Hicks, “my mentor, friend and wisdom teacher.
She also expressed gratitude to the storytelling community “– the tellers and listeners, many who have become like family; and all those who promote, nurture and participate in the art of storytelling.”
In reflection, she asks, “Who would have thought back in 1971 that I could make a living telling stories? It still amazes me that this has been my only ‘for real’ job. And I am just getting started. I plan to continue in this line of work for a long time!”
Regan-Blake feels sure that the 13th century poet, Rumi would be proud of her. “He said, ‘Let the beauty you love, be what you do.'” Next to her husband, Phil Blake, “the love of my life,” storytelling, she concludes, is her greatest joy.
When Connie takes the stage, it has been said, “She generates a brightness and warmth, drawing in listeners with her engaging humor and Southern charm. Her stories range from hilarious traditional Appalachian Mountain tales to poignant true-life drama. A consummate professional, Connie’s rare talent can transform a convention hall into a wondrous landscape and turn a packed theater into an intimate circle of friends.”
Connie resides with her husband, two dogs and a frisky cat in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina.
To contact her for performance bookings at local and regional events including professional business meetings, or for more information, visit her website at www.storywindow.com. She can also be reached by calling (828) 258-1113, or by e-mail at Connie @ StoryWindow.com.