The Gullah Geechee people on the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina are unique among the subcultures of the African diaspora. They were brought here as slaves over two centuries ago. They speak their own Creole language. They maintain traditions and customs that are fully their own.
Cool John Ferguson is a product of those cultures. And he’s shown his gift for music since he was only 3. By the time he was 5, he was playing church music professionally. For three years he was a featured entertainer on “The Low Country Sing” on Charleston’s WSCS-TV, appearing with his siblings the Ferguson Sisters, a popular gospel trio.
“A lot of my people came out of the Gullah tradition with roots in Western Africa, hard work and a hard life on the plantations, and worship in praise houses,” Cool John recalls. “When I turned 5, I started gigging in the Pentecostal church of my family. You can hear some of that gospel flavor in my playing, a lot of traditional African music mixed with the field and spiritual music.”
By the time he was in high school in the late 1960s, he had his own racially integrated band called the Plastic Society and was playing two church gigs every Sunday. That’s how he met an itinerant preacher named Reverend Ike, who set up shop in the United House of Prayer church in Beaufort, South Carolina. Ike’s touring ministry took Cool John on the road as far west as Texas.
In 1998, Cool John moved up to North Carolina and began using his talents to support the efforts of the Music Maker Relief Foundation.He has helped make classic recordings for Essie Mae Brooks, Carl Rutherford and Captain Luke, and he made his own debut album. Cool John continues to be one of the finest blues players alive.