Master of Creativity
Story and photography by
Elizabeth Skenes Millen
Natalie Daise is a ball of energy who is easy to talk to, grounded in grace and steeped in positivity. She is smart, creative and a natural born storyteller. She has made a life doing what she loves, which is creating, singing and telling stories, all while remembering and honoring her Gullah ties to the South Carolina Sea Islands. Growing up in Rochester, New York, Natalie’s childhood was less than ideal. However, her grandmother lived on Lady’s Island, which was her destination of choice when she purchased a one-way bus ticket. From then on, Natalie’s heart planted itself in the Lowcountry.
She married author, singer, songwriter Ron Daise, St. Helena native, and together they not only birthed a family, but they also started a creative career life together doing what they love. It wasn’t always stable, but it was always fulfilling. You may know the couple as the husband/wife duo, who play their fictional selves in the long-running Nickelodeon television show “Gullah Gullah Island.” The show ran from 1994 to 1999, with reruns showing for 10 more years in 23 languages.
“We were eating cold chicken trying to makes ends meet, I was 9-months pregnant with my son and we got a call from an executive director asking if we could come to New York City. I said no because I was due any day, so they came to us,” Natalie said. Nickelodeon liked what they saw and granted them a pilot. The pilot worked and so did “Gullah Gullah Island.” It was the first show of its kind to star an African-American family set in an indigenously black community.
Natalie credits grace for the show coming into her family’s life. “In my adult life, I’ve had three ‘job-jobs’ like where you clock in. I have been blessed to use what I have to make a way for myself.” Growing up her father had a saying, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Natalie adopted this philosophy early on. Her life was filled with ups and downs and when she arrived in the Lowcountry she says she was “so broken.” But that’s exactly when her life started to fall into place.
“In being around many wise, African American, elder women, they would always ask, ‘what do you have that you can use?’” Natalie recognized, “What I have is my voice. My voice is very distinct and I have my passion. That’s what I have used to build my life, and the women who I admire have mostly done that, too.”
Completely fascinated with how to take an idea and turn it into a real thing, Natalie recently earned her Masters Degree in Creativity. Even though the days of “Gullah Gullah Island” are long gone, Natalie continues to be her best, do her best and design her life around what makes her happy. With her children now grown and many accolades to her credit, she hasn’t let up doing what she loves. She has been recognized as Silver and Gold Parent’s Choice awards, received The Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest honor, and won the South Carolina’s Jean Lacy Harris Folk Heritage Award, given for lifetime achievement and excellence in folk art.
In addition, she is a regular keynote speaker and hold’s masterful, interactive workshops that help people get psyched about feeling good about themselves during challenging situations, as well as parenting, creativity, storytelling and Gullah history workshops. Most recently, she has embarked on a life-long passion in creating a one-woman play entitled “Becoming Harriet Tubman.”
“I wrote this show at the request of J.W. Rone, then Executive Director of ARTWorks in Beaufort. It was first performed on that stage. Since then it has traveled to many theaters and auditoriums and been presented to audiences from elementary schools to Civil War Scholars. It is the work of my heart and I love performing this show,” Natalie wrote on her Website. The 60-minute theatrical storytelling presentation follows the development of little Araminta Ross as she becomes the iconic heroine known to all as Harriet Tubman. Five characters, all played by Natalie, share their perspective on the events that shaped Harriet into the woman she became. This show was featured in Piccolo Spoleto last summer and in September, Natalie debuted the show at the United Solo Theater Festival in New York City.
When asked what’s next, Natalie breathed in deeply and exhaled with a gigantic smile. “I don’t know,” she said, but I’m excited about it!” I think we all are.
Loves of her life: Ron Daise, husband of 30 years; daughter, Sara and son, Simeon.
On Reading: “The Day I learned to read was the most magical day of my life!”
Favorite Books: “I love British mysteries. Especially author Lori King.”
People don’t know: “I’m a crappy housekeeper. I hate housework”
Favorite self-help philosophy:
Ho’oponopono—a Hawaiian spiritual practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. "It taught me that none of us are victims, there is nobody to blame and I am responsible. If you can do that then there is no one to attack and no one to rage at."
More about Natalie and upcoming events: www.nataliedaise.com