On March 25, the Rolling Stones performed for more than 1.2 million fans in Havana, Cuba, as the finale to their 2016 América Latina Olé Tour.
On stage, Stones drummer Charlie Watts smashed away on his set of Gretsch drums - drums that were crafted by a 130-year-old company based in the Lowcountry.
In 1883, Friedrich Gretsch, who emigrated from Germany nine years earlier, opened a small music shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., specializing in making banjos, drums and tambourines. From humble beginnings, the family-owned business has since exploded in popularity, selling products all across the United States and in 112 other countries worldwide.
Classic and contemporary musicians alike have a history with Gretsch instruments, and in particular, drums. Phil Collins of Genesis, Steve Ferrone of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and classic jazz musicians Art Blakey and Louie Bellson all have used Gretsch instruments.
In 1985, Fred W. Gretsch, great-grandson of Friedrich Gretsch, brought the esteemed company to the Lowcountry, establishing the company's drum manufacturing center in Ridgeland.
"The Lowcountry is rooted in tradition, history and culture with people possessing good old-fashioned work ethic - all things important to us," said Fred Gretsch. "We also have family in and around the Lowcountry, so it's really an ideal place for us."
Earlier in March, before the Stones' Havana performance, the band contacted Gretsch in regards to the company helping them provide instruments to Cuban musicians, who have not had the luxury of high quality gear.
Gretsch answered the call and donated instruments hand selected from their family drum collection, including a Gretsch USA Custom Satin Maple bass drum and a snare.
"Fred and I are very passionate when it comes to the mission of the Gretsch family: enriching lives through participation in music," wrote executive vice president Dinah Gretsch, Fred's wife, in a blog post detailing the company's donation. "We hope these special, hand-picked drums are now helping to keep a uniquely Cuban beat on the stages in clubs and halls in Cuba, and that they will continue to do so for many years to come."
The Gretsch Company is no stranger to charity, previously working with U2 front man Bono on a signature guitar for his Red charity in 2014, as well as working with the Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America to auction off select guitars in 2008, to name a few examples.
Today, Gretsch continues to help improve lives through a love for music and a charitable attitude.
To learn more about the Gretsch Company, visit www.gretsch.com.
Sam Posthuma of Bluffton is a freelance writer and production assistant for The Bluffton Sun.