The Governor’s Arts Awards program signifies the important relationship between government and the arts. Established in 1988, the Governor’s Arts Awards recognize individuals and organizations who have made noteworthy contributions to, or achieved artistic excellence in, the state of Mississippi. The awards are presented each year by the Mississippi Arts Commission in partnership with the Governor’s Office.

Please join us at the Old Capitol Museum in downtown Jackson on February 6, 2020 to celebrate another year of excellence in the arts!

The 2020 Governor’s Arts Awards Recipients are listed below. Click on the plus signs to learn more about each recipient. 

Henry Danton - Lifetime Achievement in Dance

Henry Danton is a 100 year-old world-renowned ballet dancer and teacher. Based in Petal, Miss., Danton continues to teach in South Mississippi as well as at Belhaven University. A native of England, he began his dance career at the age of 21 during the latter years of WWII, performing with international dance companies, including the founding Sadlers Wells Ballet which later became The Royal Ballet in England. Through teaching and dancing stints in South America, he founded the company that would become The Venezuelan National Ballet. He has taught at Carnegie Hall’s Ballet Arts, the Martha Graham Dance Company and Juilliard. During his 23-year residency in the state, Danton has taught and shared his extensive knowledge with hundreds of Mississippi students, making a profound impact on the state’s dance community.

Steve Forbert - Excellence in Music

Steve Forbert is an American troubadour, singer-songwriter, whose career in folk rock spans nearly four decades. The Meridian native officially began his career in New York City, performing on street corners and working his way up to high-profile gigs at Greenwich Village clubs, which earned him a major record label deal. Between 1978 and 1982, Forbert released four acclaimed albums, including Jackrabbit Slim with the #11 charting hit “Romeo’s Tune,” before moving to Nashville, where he continued to record and tour. His Any Old Time, a tribute to Jimmie Rodgers, received a Grammy nomination in 2003 for Best Traditional Folk Album. In 2006, Forbert was inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame. His 2018 memoir, Big City Cat: My Life In Folk-Rock, documents 60 years and focuses on his adventures in New York City during the punk rock and new wave explosion. Forbert’s 20th studio album will be released in 2020. He continues to tour internationally.  

Jackson Southernaires - Lifetime Achievement in Music

The Jackson Southernaires are a nearly 80 year-old gospel group and the first group in Mississippi to employ keyboards, guitar, drums and bass instruments in gospel, establishing a practice that continues today. Formed in 1940, the group began recording in 1969, with the release of Too Late on Song Bird Records. The group has released 28 albums, 11 of which have charted on the Billboard Gospel Albums chart. The Gospel Music Workshop of America named the Jackson Southernaires its “Traditional Male Group of the Year” in 1987, 1988 and 1989. They won a Stellar Award in 1989 and were nominated for a Grammy in 1992 for Best Traditional Gospel Album for Thank You Mama for Praying for Me.

Richard Kelso - Excellence in Visual Art

Richard Kelso is a Cleveland, Miss., native and well-known Mississippi painter whose work focuses on capturing the beauty, time and place of Mississippi’s land. Kelso is influenced by and studied under Sammy Britt at Delta State University and master colorist Henry Hensche at the Cape School of Art in Provincetown, Mass. A full-time artist for more than 30 years, Kelso’s work is found in corporate and private collections across the Southeast as well as the permanent collections of The Mississippi Museum of Art and the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art.

Tougaloo College Art Collections - Preservation of the Arts

Tougaloo College Art Collections is a fine art collection on the campus of Tougaloo College in Jackson. The collection was started in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement when a group of activists, curators and critics formed the New York Art Committee for Tougaloo College. The committee envisioned the collection serving the teaching needs of Tougaloo College and the cultural needs of the broader community. Ronald Schnell, art professor and the first curator of the collection, is credited with acquiring the majority of its works while artist and scholar David Driskell championed its importance nationally. Today the collection has 1,500 works, including works on paper, sculpture, paintings, decorative arts and textiles.      


MAC depends on the support and generosity of private donors to produce the Governor’s Arts Awards each year. If you are interested in helping MAC continue the tradition of celebrating Mississippi’s greatest talents, please complete the Sponsorship Form below.

2020 Sponsorship Form


Each year during the summer months, MAC asks the public to nominate artists or organizations that have made significant contributions to the arts. From the nominations submitted, a panel of judges, many of whom possess a deep knowledge of the visual and performing arts in Mississippi, select a several of those nominated to receive a Governor’s Arts Award.

Nominated artists do not have to reside in the state currently, but they must have significant ties to the state through some years of residency. Awards are given once; previous recipients are ineligible. Also, no posthumous nominations will be accepted. If selected, the nominee must agree to receive the award in person at the ceremony to be held on February 6, 2020, in Jackson.

Questions? Contact: Anna Ehrgott, Communications Director, or 601.359.6546


Download a complete listing of previous Governor’s Arts Award recipients by name (Excel spreadsheet)


  • London Branch – Excellence in Music and Education
  • The Canton Spirituals – Lifetime Achievement
  • Ruth Miller – Excellence in Visual Arts
  • New Stage Theatre – Excellence in Theatre
  • Hartley and Mary Peavey – Governor’s Choice Award
  • James Patterson – Excellence in Photography and Community Support
  • Julia Reed – Cultural Ambassador


  • Steve Azar – Governor’s Choice Award
  •  David Keary – Leadership in Performing Arts
  •  Joe Overstreet – Excellence in Visual Art
  •  V. A. Patterson – Community Arts Leader
  •  Yoknapatawpha Arts Council – Arts in Community


  • William R. Ferris – Lifetime Achievement
  • Sammy Britt – Excellence in Visual Art
  • Vasti Jackson – Arts Ambassador
  • Lucy Richardson Janoush – Arts Patron
  • Jaimoe Johnie Johnson – Excellence in Music
  • Mississippi Opera – Artistic Excellence


  • Tom ‘Bones’ Malone
  • Scott Barretta
  • Claudia Cartee
  • Tig Notaro
  • Dr. Tommie ‘Tonea’ Stewart


  • Lane Chapel Quintet
  • Chesney Blankenstein Doyle
  • Maude Schuyler Clay
  • MSU Riley Center
  • Craig Wiseman


  • Lesley Silver
  • John Maxwell
  • William Baggett
  • Jim Weatherly
  • James Cotton


  • Kathryn Lewis
  • Bay St. Louis Little Theatre
  • Beth Henley
  • Eddie “Chank” Willis
  • Bobby Rush


  • Althea Jerome
  • Howard Bahr
  • WellsFest
  • Carl Jackson
  • McCarty Pottery
  • Mose Allison


  • Charles A. Rhoads
  • Natchez Literary & Cinema Celebration
  • Gwendolyn Magee
  • Mac McAnally
  • Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins


  • Lenagene Waldrup
  • Bessie Johnson
  • Grassroots Radio Show
  • Wyatt Waters
  • David “Honeyboy” Edwards


  • University of Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra
  • WINGS Performing Arts Program of the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center
  • Wolfe Studio
  • Cassandra Wilson
  • John Grisham
  • Andrew Bucci


  • Mississippi Museum of Art
  • Emma McCain
  • Lallah Miles Perry
  • Natasha Trethewey
  • Charley Pride


  • Nora Davis Magnet School
  • Viking Range Corporation
  • Sam Gilliam
  • Sam Carr
  • Bo Diddley


  • Sam Myers
  • Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi
  • Bruce Levingston
  • Fletcher Cox
  • Casey Elementary School
  • Trustmark National Bank
  • Elizabeth Spencer


  • Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science
  • Pearl Public School District
  • Thacker Mountain Radio
  • Gladys Kemp Lisanby
  • Sela Ward
  • Will D. Campbell


  • Greenville Arts Council
  • James “Super Chikan” Johnson
  • Rankin County School District
  • Malcolm White
  • Mary Katherine Loyacono McCravey


  • Dr. David Stuart Blackburn
  • Thallis Lewis
  • Charles Burnett
  • Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education
  • USA International Ballet Competition
  • William Eggleston
  • Rust College A’Cappella Choir
  • Little Milton (Campbell)


  • B.B. King
  • John Paul
  • Bologna Performing Arts Center
  • Sally W. Carmichael
  • The Village of Taylor
  • Andrew Cary Young
  • William Carey College Theatre
  • Dr. Russell Thomas, Jr.
  • Stephen E. Ambrose


  • Abie “Boogaloo” Ames
  • George Berry
  • Roger D. Malkin
  • Samuel Mockbee
  • Pierce Street Elementary School
  • Ronald Otto Schnell
  • Lester Senter
  • Martha Layton Richardson Tatum


  • Larry Brown
  • Senator Thad Cochran
  • Crossroads Quilters
  • Sarah Gillespie
  • Hattiesburg Arts Council
  • Andrew Lark, Jr.
  • Charlie Musselwhite
  • John Palmer
  • Stewart Family Pottery


  • Johnnie Billington
  • Ellen Douglas (Josephine Haxton)
  • P. Sanders McNeal
  • Mississippi State Hospital—Community Services Homeless Program
  • Museum of Southern Jewish Experience
  • Colman Pearce
  • Kenneth Quinn
  • Roebuck “Pops” Staples
  • Marty Stuart


  • Beechwood Elementary School
  • Vicksburg Warren School District—For Project ABC (Arts in the Basic Curriculum)
  • The Cotton Blossom Singers of the Piney Woods School
  • Dr. David Daigeneault
  • Eastman Memorial Foundation for support of the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art
  • Milt Hinton
  • Natchez Opera Festival, Inc.


  • Dr. Paul E. Ballard
  • Marshall Bouldin
  • Dr. Samuel Marshall Gore
  • International Paper
  • The Knight Foundation through The Sun Herald
  • The City of Biloxi
  • The George E. Ohr Arts and Cultural Center
  • The Library of Hattiesburg, Petal and Forrest County
  • Malaco Records
  • Dr. Jean Simmons


  • Entergy/MP&L Company
  • Morgan Freeman
  • Sid Graves
  • Lisa N. Howorth
  • Dorothy Moore
  • Dan Overly
  • University Press of Mississippi
  • Theo Inman Vaughey


  • Thomas Jones Biggs
  • Shelby Foote
  • Gum Tree Festival
  • Bill Mitchell
  • William D. Mounger
  • New Stage Theatre Education Program
  • Lida Rogers
  • Billie Jean Young


  • Robert Parker Adams
  • B & P Interiors, Hinds County Public Schools, and Hinds County Department of Human Services
  • Nelle DeLoach Elam
  • Keith Dockery McLean
  • Mississippi Action for Community Education/Delta Arts Project
  • Willie Morris
  • Jim Timms


  • Patti Carr Black
  • Vicki Bodenhamer
  • Eleanor Ferris
  • Richard Ford
  • Thomas Somerville Howorth
  • Mississippi Educational Television Network, Mtel, USA International Ballet Competition
  • Othar Turner


  • Dr. Margaret Walker Alexander
  • Walter Anderson Museum of Art, City of Ocean Springs, and Jackson County Board of Supervisors
  • Crosby Arboretum
  • Jane Reid-Petty
  • South Central Bell
  • West Tallahatchie High School
  • Mary Jayne Whittington


  • Center for the Study of Southern Culture
  • Chevron USA
  • Corinth Area Arts Council
  • William Dunlap
  • Jackson Public Schools and Mississippi Symphony Orchestra
  • Ethel Wright Mohamed
  • Malcolm C. Norwood


  • Stuart C. Irby, Jr.
  • Thalia Mara
  • Mississippi Cultural Crossroads and Claiborne County Board of Supervisors
  • Mississippi Mass Choir
  • Noxubee County Library
  • Starkville High School
  • Eudora Welty


No award ceremony took place this year.


  • The Arts Alliance of Jackson & Hinds County
  • Deposit Guaranty National Bank
  • Barry Hannah
  • City of Jackson
  • Jackson Public Schools/Academic and Performing Arts Complex Performing Arts Division
  • Jean Chisolm Lindsey
  • Leontyne Price