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Hasan Davis

Oral Tradition

Hasan Davis

Recipient Information


Paint Lick (Madison County), Kentucky


Oral Tradition

Year of Award


Grant or Fellowship

Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship

Grant Amount


Hasan Davis was, as he explained recently, blessed to “[grow] up in a family with a rich oral tradition [that] was inspiring, empowering and unfortunately, rare.” He first learned to tell stories from his mother, Alice Lovelace, and father, Charles Jikki Riley. The stories he learned at home were different from those he heard at school which centered on “African Americans as slaves, victims, or predators.” At home, he says, he “heard stories of African and African American men and women who were leaders, Kings, Queens, and scholars” many of whom “who stood, fought, and often died believing in the potential of this great nation.” Davis’ “parents celebrated their contributions through stories and spoken word traditions that made them live in [his] memory.”

With a degree in oral communications with an emphasis on theatre as well as a degree in law, Davis has both formal and informal training in oral tradition and communication. Throughout his formal education, he was consistently disappointed in the lack of stories that “introduced faces and experiences like mine into the ones we all learned and understood as ‘America's’ stories.’” For nearly thirty years, he has been committed to the oral tradition passed on to him by his parents. He has collected stories of African American people and woven them together to share in a blend of theater and storytelling.

He has presented in schools, community centers, universities, museums, and prisons all over the United States with the goal to empower his audiences. “I came to realize,” he shared, “that if you cannot see yourself as a positive contributor to the past of a nation it is almost impossible to imagine yourself as an important part of its future.” He also shares his stories with his son who plans to carry on this tradition after graduating from college.

One of the stories Davis performs is that of York, “who was enslaved to William Clark and the only person of African descent to participate in the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition.” He will use the funds from the fellowship to complete York’s story – what York did after receiving his freedom and what happened to York’s wife and family who “were sold off after York returned with the Corps of Discovery.” Davis hopes to visit community elders in Mississippi and the Pacific Northwest “that have shared stories of York and his possible descendants” with him in the past. Through this fellowship, he will be able to gather these stories and compile them with the stories he already has collected.