Four-time National Hollerin champ hopes tradition never dies

First Posted: 5/23/2009

SPIVEYS CORNER C.S. Lewis once said, A pleasure is only full grown when it is remembered. Remembering the past is what four-time National Hollerin Contest champion Gregory Jackson is all about in regards to hollerin.
My grandfather Graham Jackson took me to the first Hollerin Contest 41 years ago (the first one), shared Jackson during a recent interview. I learned that day, at the age of 10, the importance of remembering the past and the history that helped people to survive.
Jackson is the regional manager, eastern seaboard, for BRANDT, a specialty formulation nutrient company for many of the crops, such as cotton, grown from Maine to Florida. He is on the road a large portion of the time and is not home for long periods, but Jackson is hoping to be home for this years Hollerin Contest, as always set for the third Saturday in June, this year on June 20.
I havent decided for sure if I will compete this year. It is an odd year, and I havent had too much luck on odd years, quipped the former champ. Winning in 1992, 1994, 1996 and 1998, Jackson shared that he does want to compete again.
I feel strongly we need to preserve our history, and hollerin is a big part of our history and culture here in Sampson County and North Carolina. Before everyone had cell phones and pagers, communication was done by people calling to one another when they were in harms way with a distress holler. Other times, people would use a morning greeting call to check on their neighbors to see if they were up from their nights rest and doing all right. A location call or holler was used when someone was lost to help them find their way out of the woods or such. Sometimes a young man would holler out to his girlfriend to let her know he was on his way over with a courtin call.
Another big part of hollering history, Jackson said, was the call used for entertainment while working. Many times, when working in the fields or during corn shucking, people would start hollerin songs to help get them through the drudgery of their work.
That tradition, so rich in Sampson County history and residents heritage, sparked the idea for the contest.
I am so grateful for those people that were mindful enough to want to save a part of our history and keep it from going away because it was not being used any longer and starting the contest, Jackson said.
The purpose of raising funds for the Spiveys Corner fire department was also a great cause to help also.
Over time, proceeds from the Hollerin Contest became the big, and only, fund-raising event for the Spiveys Corner Fire Department, yet another reason Jackson believes so strongly in the event and encourages support for it.

The champs
Larry Jackson is the only past champion to have won more championships than Gregory Jackson. I am not exactly sure of how many he has won … we have gone back and forth leading, but he has taken the lead for now.
In the early years of the contest, Jackson stressed, champions were not allowed to compete again and, he added, many of the early champions were older men who had actually used hollerin as a means of communication.
Many of those men, he said, are no longer with us. They really understood the true purpose of what hollerin was all about and what it had meant to those who had used it.
My last win was a really good day for me, expressed Jackson. My daughter, Nina, actually came up on stage with me after I won and hollered with me. Then, we went to my granddaddys house and sat on the tailgate of the truck and we hollered Amazing Grace because he was not able to go that day. It was a good day.
The National Hollerin Contest champion receives a trophy for his efforts and possibly receives an invitation to go on national television. Most recently, the champions have appeared on The David Letterman Show. Jackson, however, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the only champion to do so since Johnny Carson was host.
Jay Leno is a very personable guy, and I would do anything he asked me to do because he was so nice to us when we visited California. I was asked by both Letterman and Lenos production staff to appear but I chose Leno. He offered for us to stay an additional night and be in the audience the next night because Jeff Foxworthy was to be on. Leno arranged for us to meet with Foxworthy for about 15 minutes. He also made sure my daughter, then around 12 years old, met Hanson, which was a very popular group of brother singers. She was able to have her picture taken with them. The show host also made sure Nina was in the audience when I was on because she was only 12 and you had to be 18 to be in the audience. Leno told his producer to put her in his chair and make sure she enjoyed the show. I will never forget him for that.
Two years ago, Jackson traveled to Tokyo to take part in a documentary done by the Japanese on various forms of communication, sharing his abilities in hollerin.
It was a unique experience because I was the only person there that spoke English. I had to have an interpreter at all times when out. But I began to realize that all parts of the world had some form of hollerin as a means to communicate. Some people yodel, some whistle, others use different forms of a call or yell to talk with other people. There is a great need to save these forms of sharing with others from disappearing.
Jackson, along with many of the former champions and people involved with the contest, were also part of a documentary done for the Sundance Film Festival. That documentary is available for purchase at the annual event in Spiveys Corner.
I am glad to be a participant in part of the history of hollerin and keeping it alive for future generations. The number of people that actually experienced the use of this form of communication is quickly disappearing and it is up to us and future generations to make sure it does not vanish. The opportunities that I have received as a result of participating and winning the Hollerin Contest have given me so many memories and chances to meet people with which I have been able to share the story of hollerin. It is just fantastic. I possibly would have never had those opportunities if it had not been for this part of my heritage. I hope as the years go by more young people will become involved in learning the true meaning of this tradition and help preserve it for their children and their future.
This years National Hollerin Contest is slated for June 20 at the Spiveys Corner Volunteer Fire Department with the proceeds going to the department for purchase of an emergency vehicle for the rescue squad and fire equipment. Money will also go to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center. Festivities begin at 11 a.m.

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