A seventh-generation Key Wester, who first blew a conch shell as a child, took top honors Saturday at this island city’s 50th annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest.
Clinton Curry, 38, impressed the judges by playing a melodic chord on two shells simultaneously, a portion of composer Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” on one shell and a 45-second single-shell blast.
“The conch shell has a huge place in Key West history,” said Curry after his victory. “I’m all about preserving the heritage of my home town — this is just one small piece that I get to contribute to helping preserve that history.”
The fluted, pink-lined conch shell has been blown in Key West since the early 1800s, when seafaring settlers used it as a signaling device. Native-born islanders like Curry are commonly called Conchs, and the Florida Keys are known as the Conch Republic.
The 50th anniversary event drew more than 50 entrants, ranging from young children to seniors, who were judged on the quality, novelty, duration and loudness of the sounds they produced.
Sylvia Rowland of Chesapeake, Va., took top honors in the women’s division and the contest’s youngest entrant, 4-year-old Sam Holland of Key West, won the children’s division.
The top group entry was the Boca Chica Conchestra, whose 26 members performed a conch-shell accompaniment and offbeat dance to a recording of Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.”
The contest was conceived by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, founded in 1960 to advocate the preservation of Key West’s culture as well as the island’s historically significant buildings.