The Beat Goes On



It’s always been about the music for Terry Herron, even when it wasn’t. When he first arrived in the Lowcountry in 1978, drawn here from his native Chicago, it was because of music. Sort of.

He and his then-partner were in the business of importing, specializing in everything a musician needs to reach an audience: instruments, microphones, guitar cables, you name it. Most of their trade went through the port of Savannah, and once the pair saw the Hostess City, they said to themselves, “Let’s get out of Chicago.”

This led to an extended stay on Hilton Head Island while they built their business in Ridgeland. Eventually, Herron heard the siren song of a new startup and left for Atlanta, spending a decade importing desserts, chocolates and cookies from Europe. He still made time for music, performing with his church and producing shows at larger venues. A natural on the microphone and a talented singer in his own right, he found himself drawn to the stage and to the role of emcee. 

“I have a rule that every performer gets a standing ovation, and the audience has to know that,” he said.

After his time in Atlanta, he returned to Hilton Head to find it a much different place than it was in the 1970s. Growth had come to the island, bringing with it new amenities and new opportunities for its exploding population. There was one group, however, that had noticeably missed out on this boom.

“I called one of the Gullah leaders because nothing had changed for them. It was like the native islanders had missed out on the last 20 years of growth,” he said. “They didn’t have any of the jobs or own any of the businesses.”

The pace of gentrification had kicked into high gear, Herron noted, and it was forcing many native islanders off of the island. Younger generations, whose families’ Hilton Head ties went back centuries, were being forced to look elsewhere to jobs and prosperity. And with their absence went the hope of survival for this unique culture. 

“That religion, that music, that food, that family ethic, it was just … going,” Herron said.

He also noticed that it seemed other members of the Lowcountry community weren’t aware of the struggles facing native islanders. Not because they didn’t care, but because of an invisible barrier that seemed to encircle native islander neighborhoods. “I just tried to figure out what was the reason for there being very little involvement, or crossover between these communities,” Herron said. “It’s not racial, its cultural.”

He and Scott Gibbs, his partner in musical production, began trying to bring these two communities together with the power of music. The result was “Unity Through Song,” a celebration of native island culture this past June. 

“The cool thing is, the choir was from 10 different churches, so it was a true community choir,” Herron said. “This is music that has a direct musical lineage going back 400 years back to the first man or woman stuck in a rice field and singing or humming just to keep themselves sane.”

Herron has produced shows celebrating everything from Sinatra’s 100th birthday to the music of Johnny Mercer, but “Unity Through Song” was something special. As a dedicated member of the Hilton Head community — he’s involved in organizations from Heritage Library to the Greater Island Council to the Office of Cultural Affairs and the the Kickin’ Asphalt Bicycle Club — it was a chance to combine his passions for music and community service.

But if you ask him, he was just doing what anyone else would do, and bringing the community together was just all in a day’s work: “I’m just a hyper guy who tries to do a lot of projects.”