When it comes to retirement, M.K. Soni shares this simple advice, “Retire from work, but not from life.”
With 15 to 20 gigs a month, weekly engagements at Halls Chophouse on King Street, international concerts, and invitations to perform still pouring in, The Plantation Singers of Charleston, South Carolina are certainly taking Soni’s advice to heart.
Formed by Lynette White in June of 1996, The Plantation Singers are “one of the top representatives for the Gullah Geechee culture for the state of South Carolina.”
Of the formation of the group, White explains, “I started the group 23 years ago to give my mom something to do during retirement. My mom, then, was 66. She is still a current member of the organization, and she will be 90 in August!”
White’s original vision for her mother has expanded to help other retirees.
“I have quite a few retirees in the group,” she said. “About 50 percent of the group are over 60 and into their 70s, and I believe in keeping my retirees busy. We started our first performances in September of 1996, have not had a month off from performing since [that time], and we are still traveling.”
Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the group can be found at Halls Chophouse, gracing patrons with soulful renditions of “Amazing Grace,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and more beautiful music of the Lowcountry.
The Plantation Singers sing a cappella and also incorporate bongos, piano, tambourine, and a variety of other instruments. Though the group currently boasts 15 members, depending on the venue size, not all of the singers may be present at all of the performances. Even with only a few members performing, the power and quality of the music is unquestionable.
Additional Lowcountry performances for The Plantation Singers include the three main Charleston venues of the Spoleta Festival, the Moja Arts Festival, and the North Charleston Cultural Arts Festival.
Year round, the group also performs at “Lowcountry gospel weddings. Though based out of South Carolina, The Plantation Singers are well-known nationally and internationally.
White shares that she also founded the group for the preservation, education, and celebration of the Gullah Geechee culture.
She has developed a full Gullah Geechee-themed presentation.
“I have taken this into the schools and do a very interactive show with the kids. They sing the songs, they learn some Gullah history, they learn how to speak a little Gullah, we do a little Gullah storytelling, we talk about it, and we demonstrate sweet grass basket weaving – all in 60 minutes!”
If the number of gigs doesn’t keep the retirees on their feet, then the young people in the group certainly should. Ranging in age from 8 to 18 years of age, Ms. White has included children and youth in the group since 1998.
“Those kids stand shoulder to shoulder with us,” White said. “If we’ve got 15 gigs and they can make them, they’re on all 15.”
The 18-year-old in the group is actually White’s daughter, who has been with the group since she was an infant.
“My daughter started performing with us when she was 2 years old and has been a full-time performing member of The Plantation Singers since then,” White said. “I taught her how to play the piano when she was 3, and she now has her own, full-time music business and her own studio on Savannah Highway.”
All who may be interested in being a part of the group are welcome to come to practice and try their hand, but being a part of The Plantation Singers requires serious commitment.
“One of my main criteria is commitment,” White explained. “I want people who are committed and enjoy just coming out and doing this for the community. I want people to come to the group who enjoy singing and making other people happy. If they don’t have the best voice, that’s fine — what’s important to me is heart. Come, learn the songs, come out, and be committed; if I can’t depend on you, you can’t be with us because we do perform a lot. 15 to 20 gigs a month is a huge commitment.
“I do realize that the singers and the other people who work for the organization do have a life outside of The Plantation Singers, so I will work around their schedules,” White said. “However, don’t disappear on me for a month or two and then pop back in. We are a professional organization.”
In fact, The Plantation Singers falls under the umbrella of White’s business, LBW Music LLC. Members of the group and others who work for White are required to fill out a w9, and they do receive compensation for their work. This compensation can be especially helpful for retirees who are looking to fill the Medicare 80/20 gap.
This is the “little extra money that allows the seniors to not have to touch their retirement, but they can use it to pay for their medicine or pay on a doctor’s bill,” she said.
Though commitment is key, it’s not always all work and no play. The group does enjoy some downtime and socializing together.
“We gather together, we go out to eat, [and] in fact, next month, we’re going to do a Plantation Singers get-together where we’ll all bring potluck, have a good time, and let down our hair,” White said.
White isn’t shy about her feelings about the high calling and responsibility she feels as the founder of The Plantation Singers.
“When I started the group, I gave it over to doing God’s work, so we go wherever the Lord needs for us to go,” White said. “If a door opens, I say ‘Well Lord, I guess you want us to be there,’ and you know what, it works out, because He wanted us to be there.”