Oscar Rivers Playing Piano

In loving memory of our co-founder Jack, McCray and his signature hats,  we present the annual Tip of the Hat award. This honor is given to a jazz luminary who has made a significant impact in the Charleston jazz community.  In 2022, we honored Lonnie Hamilton III for his work in jazz performance, education and public service.

Recipients of the Tip of the Hat Award

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2024 George Kenny

[SOURCE: Charleston Jazz Initiative] George Kenny, a native Charlestonian, received his first musical experience as a trumpet player at Burke High School in Charleston.  He later trained as a saxophonist after enlisting in the United States Air Force (Korea), before attending South Carolina State College (now South Carolina State University) and earning a bachelor of science degree in music education.

Kenny was a band director for Charleston County schools for thirty-two years before retiring in 1991.  He taught at Laing High School, C. A. Brown High School, Burke High School, Courtney Middle School, and the Jenkins Orphanage. While at C.A. Brown High School, the school’s musical production of Hello Dolly (1970) was the first to sell every seat at Charleston’s Gaillard Auditorium for three performances.

Kenny has performed as bass violinist for the Ebony Fashion Fair for several years and with such musical greats as Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass, and Dizzy Gillespie.  He has also performed for the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, MOJA Arts Festival, and with most of the jazz musicians in the Charleston area. Currently, Mr. Kenny plays with the Davis Archer Band at major hotels and island resorts and is the director of the Melody Chimes Ensemble at Calvary Episcopal Church in Charleston.  He has been featured in two motion picture films — The Notebook and Consenting Adults.

CJI’s Jack McCray lists him in his 2007 book, Charleston Jazz.  He performed with CJI’s Legends Band in 2010 and is featured on its first CD recording.  Kenny prefers to be called a “Good Sideman” as his ensemble career has spanned over 50 years.

Oscar Rivers by Jonathan Boncek

2023 Oscar Rivers

Oscar Rivers is known as Charleston’s Jazz Patriarch. He made a name for himself in 1970’s Chicago, playing with everyone from Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Stevie Wonder, BB King, the Temptations, and the Quincy Jones Orchestra. Rivers is featured in An Encyclopedia of South Carolina Jazz and Blues Musicians, which documents South Carolinian musicians from the 19th century to the present. Truly a Lowcountry legend, Oscar’s influence on Charleston’s music community is far-reaching, and it is our great honor to recognize his contributions to jazz.

Lonnie Hamilton III

2022 Lonnie Hamilton

Lonnie Hamilton, born in Charleston, initiated his legacy when his grandfather gifted him a saxophone during his high school years. He spent his summers touring with the illustrious Jenkins’ Orphanage Band as a saxophonist. After graduating from Burke High School, he received a music scholarship to attend South Carolina State College. Lonnie’s music education career spanned over two decades, where he served as a Band Director at Bonds-Wilson High School in North Charleston. During his tenure, he taught more than 3,000 students. Lonnie continued to play music throughout his career, even at his own establishment. In 1970, he became the first African American Charleston County Council member. He held this position for two decades and was elected twice as Chairman of the Council. Lonnie’s name is now an iconic figure in both the jazz community and beyond, for his work in providing opportunities to those who would not have had them otherwise.


“Music opened a lot of doors for me; but I was able to open doors for a lot of people.”

–Lonnie Hamilton III.

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