Acclaimed costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee was in her late 20s when she got her start in New York alongside Hazel J. Bryant, a fellow trailblazer in black theater who produced hundreds of musicals and plays and founded the Richard Allen Center of Culture and Art.
“We forged a path for black theatre in the mid- to late-1960s,” Colley-Lee, a Charleston resident, recalls. “We were doing amazing shows, many written by and featuring African American writers and actors,” including Langston Hughes. Using her art background, Colley-Lee began designing posters and flyers for the productions, then graduated to scenery and finally costumes, where she found her niche.
On February 10, Colley-Lee will accept her latest honor, a Governor’s Arts Award for Excellence in Costume Design & Arts Patron, at the 34th Governor’s Arts Awards ceremony. The Mississippi Arts Commission will host the event at the auditorium at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson at 6 p.m., preceded by a reception at 4:30 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.
The lineup for the awards ceremony also features the five-time Grammy-nominated Williams Brothers, a gospel singing group started in 1960 in Amite County that has recorded 43 albums and was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1999. Brothers Doug and Melvin Williams, along with Andre Tate, will perform during the ceremony and take home the award for Lifetime Achievement in Music.
In the Arts in Community category, the ceremony will honor Alcorn State University Jazz Festival. Under the direction of David Miller, the festival has brought internationally renowned musicians Branford Marsalis, Esperanza Spalding, Chick Corea and Max Roach and many others to Vicksburg, where the festival is held. Miller will also perform during the ceremony.
Longtime event curator Holly Lange of Ridgeland will receive the Governor’s Choice Award. Lange, who founded the Mississippi Book Festival and has produced opening events for the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center and more, has dedicated much of her career to showcasing Mississippi’s cultural history.
“So many of us want to shine positive attention on our state and make people feel good about where they live,” says Lange, “and that’s what the Governor’s Arts Awards does. It draws attention to those who have had some success with their talent and helps expose them to a broader audience at the same time.”
Belzoni native and filmmaker Larry Gordon will receive the award for Lifetime Achievement in Motion Pictures & Television. Gordon is best known for production the Oscar-nominated drama “Field of Dreams,” as well as action movies like “Die Hard,” “48 Hrs.,” “Predator” and “Point Break.”
Abstract artist and arts educator Mary Lovelace O’Neal, a Jackson native, will be honored for Excellence in Visual Art. O’Neal’s work has been exhibited at the Mnuchin Gallery in New York and abroad in Italy, France, Chile, Senegal and Nigeria. The professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, has received the Artist En France Award and was selected to represent Mississippi in the Committees Exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
Due to Covid-19, some recipients will deliver their acceptance remarks via a video recording. In addition to the live event, Mississippi Public Broadcasting will air the ceremony on February 18.