Name: Thales Thomas “Skipp” Pearson
Born: November 21, 1937
Died: June 5, 2017
Background/Significance: Thales Thomas “Skipp” Pearson was a jazz icon, renowned for his smooth tenor saxophone skills. Called “Pops” by many, Pearson was also known for being a highly compassionate proponent of music education.
Pearson began his music career at a young age, playing for school dances and performing in the school band. Following his high school graduation, he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1956. While enlisted, Pearson played in venues from California to Western Europe. Following his service in the military, he attended Claflin University and received a degree in Music Education. For 30 years, Pearson put his talents to use locally, serving as the band director and general music teacher in the Bamberg and Clarendon school districts and spreading his passion for jazz as well as providing foundational structures for band programs that are still in place today.
During his illustrious career, he played with music legends such as “Dizzy” Gillespie, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Miles Davis. In 2002, South Carolina named him an ambassador of jazz in recognition of his contributions both on and off the stage. In 2003, Pearson was awarded the Elizabeth O’Neil Verner Award for the Arts for an Individual Performing Artist. In recommending him for the award, Wynton Marsalis praised his work, saying “The local legend is a repository of unrecorded history, a hands-on educator, a personal mentor to aspiring artists and above all, a first-rate performer. In Columbia, South Carolina, that man is Skipp Pearson.” Pearson also received the Order of the Palmetto in 2017, the highest civilian honor granted in South Carolina.
Pearson passed away at age 79, following a five-year battle with bone cancer. Pearson’s mission to democratize jazz and bolster local musicians will forever be his legacy.