BLACK HISTORY MONTH A legacy of music
BY CAROLYN GRIFFIN
The Greenville Standard
The legacy of music taught, played and created by Blacks in Butler County is rich in history and deserves recognition along with those influential in education and government and politics.
A few names not mentioned in this article include: Ed Bell, an American Piedmont blues and country singer, guitarist and songwriter; Mrs. Voncile Payne, and her son, Alfred Payne; The Mahand Family; Vincent Womack; The Seven Shape Singers; Esau and Jacob Bedgood; and Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne, the mentor of Hank Williams, Sr.
GEORGIA GAITHER LUCAS FOSTER
Mrs. Georgia Gaither Lucas Foster was born and reared in Charlotte, N.C. She developed a passion for music from her father who was a Deacon in the local Primitive Baptist Church and who secured an organ for the family home.
She and several of her siblings were often volun-told by their father to sing songs and participate in local plays at the church.
She was unable to attend the high school within walking distance of her home due to laws governing segregation, thus she made the bus ride to a Huntersville High School in Huntersville, N.C., approximately fifteen miles from her home. She further developed her musical skills by leading vocal selections in the high school Glee Club.
After graduating from high school, she attended Barber Scotia College in Concord, N.C. for two years and transferred to Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C. to complete her degree.
She was a member of the choir at both of these colleges. Livingstone College was supported by the African Methodist Zion Church. After graduation, she was offered a teaching position at Lomax Hannon Junior College, which was also supported by the same church.
It was during this time that she began worshipping at Butler Chapel AME Zion church and met the love of her life, Frank Lucas.
She later became employed with the Butler County School system at Georgiana Training School and Greenville Training School where she served as Social Studies teacher and guidance counselor.
However, it was her love for music where she continued to shine and make her mark. She served as director, organist, and pianist for various choirs at Butler Chapel AME Zion Church.
In her earlier career at Greenville Training School, she served as director of the school choir.
She became the first woman of color to serve in the Central Office of the Butler County Board of Education.
She served as Testing and Evaluation Supervisor, Chapter I Director, and Director of Federal Programs until her retirement in 1990.
In 1992, her husband, Frank Lucas, an elected member of the Butler County Board of Education, passed and she was selected to complete his term in office.
Her passion for music carried over in her personal life: making sure her son and daughter took piano lessons and financing piano lessons for her three grandchildren.
She later married Rev. Willie Foster and served in various areas of the music ministry in the church where he pastored until her death in 2005.
Often, we think of Mr. Jeddo Bell as dedicated Public Servant and an admired and well-loved educator.
I decided to spotlight him as an anointed musician and singer in our legacy of music.
I cannot remember if I first met him in my fourth-grade French class or at the House of God Church on Lincoln Street.
He loved to talk about the class, but the truth is, I just do not remember much French. What I do remember is how he sang and played the organ.
I remember visiting on many occasions as a child and as an adult. I can remember attending services there with my aunt, who was a holiness preacher.
It was quite different from my Baptist Church, but once I got used to it, I loved the worship experience.
So much of that can be attributed to Mr. Bell and his music. He loved singing and playing the organ and many lives were touched through his music.
I reached out to Pastor Lois Robinson, who knew Mr. Bell as a teenager, and attended church with him.
Her husband, Pastor Leander and his family, like Mr. Bell, grew up in the House of God Church. She graciously provided the rest of our story.
The word that best describes Mr. Jeddo Bell as a musician was that he was “Dependable.”
From the day I went to the House of God Church until he became ill, he was always the church musician.
He did not play all the up-to-date music, but his music truly ministered to the soul. Other musicians would come in with their keyboards, but Mr. Bell could always be found at the organ.
He was also an amazing singer. My favorite was his solo of “In Times Like These.” He would emphasize that we need a Savior, and we need a Friend.
He played for the church choir that I was honored to be a part of. We not only sang at our church, but at many other churches around town. He was immensely proud of our choir.
There was a lot of talent in our church. Mr. Bell founded a group called the Bellaires, his namesake.
The members were Joanne Hinds and her sister, Vivian Jones, Patricia and Eileen Robinson. This group was in great demand and he traveled with them wherever they went.
Even though the members went off to college and some moved away, for many years they would always come home to do an Annual Christmas Concert at the House of God Church.
“Changed” by Walter and Tramaine Hawkins, led by Vivian Jones, was my favorite song of the group.
I never saw Mr. Bell play by notes. I am thinking that he played by ear.
I know that he grew up around music in his home church. His father was the General Elder of the H.O.G Church.
Mr. Bell left an impression in many areas of our Black History in Butler County. His anointed gift of music will never be forgotten.
Avant Wilkerson’s love for music started at a young age with the movie Drumline. He would watch Nick Cannon beat the drums, and while watching he would get two pencils and the movie case and beat on the case for a drum making the same beat as being played in the movie.
He continued this on a daily routine. When he got in the 5th grade, he joined Greenville Middle School beginner band under the leadership of Mr. Chris Pryor.
He wanted to be a part of their drumline, but there were no openings at the time. So, when he was told he had to choose an instrument to play, he chose the alto saxophone.
His parents felt that it was one of the most difficult instruments for him to learn to play. However, Avant learned to play the sax in a short period of time.
His first year of beginner band, he received the highest award a student could receive, “Best Musician Director’s Award.”
The following year he received, “The Most Improved Musician Award,” and once again his 7th and 8th grade year he won the highest award given to any middle school band student, “The Director’s Award.”
His love for music continued to grow stronger as he entered high school. He became a member of the Greenville High School Tiger Pride Marching Band under the direction of Brett Johnson.
He participated in many band competitions while being a part of the high school band program. His junior year in high school he became the drum major and held this position for two years.
He also started taking piano lessons under Mr. Wilkerson and became proficient in the piano. That same year he received the “Louis Armstrong Jazz Award.”
He attended many honor bands during his high school career and was offered several band scholarships. However, He always wanted to attend Troy University as a music education major and be a member of the “Sound of The South.”
Brett Johnson, who is also an alumnus of Troy University and a former member of “The Sound of The South,” encouraged him to stay focused and to pursue his dream as a music educator.
Avant did just that, in fact he was offered a band scholarship to Troy University his senior year in high school, and is currently a music education major and member of “The Sound of The South.”
During his freshman year at Troy University, he joined the band fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi.
Avant’s talent was strongly influenced by two Greenville natives, Kenny Robinson and Preston Thomas. He often watched their performances and playing style and stated that he wanted to play just like them one day.
Avant is looking forward to becoming a music educator. His long-term goal is to receive his doctoral degree in music education and teach and director music at a collegiate level.
ANTHONY T. WOMACK
Defining moments in my life were impacted tremendously by three African Americans. First, my mother, Ruby Price Womack, who made sure there was a piano in our home.
I was accustomed to hearing her practice spirituals such as “Amazing Grace” and “Precious Lord” on that musical instrument as well as numerous performances at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, where she served as the musician and Junior Choir Director. I was baptized at that church.
Mrs. Lillian Gregory was my first music teacher of the piano. I began those lessons the summer of my 4th grade and I recall walking down the street to her home where the 30-minute lessons took place on that piano in her living room.
She emphasized discipline and was meticulous in guiding my playing and relentless in not proceeding to the next song in the piano book, until I had mastered each song flawlessly.
Funny how I can still remember her chomping softly on Wrigley Spearmint flavored chewing gum as she focused on my playing.
After two years, I discontinued those Saturday morning lessons, in part because I wanted to stay home and watch cartoons.
The other reason was the assignment of Mr. Barney E. Smart as Band Director at Georgiana Training School in Georgiana.
Barney Smart taught me to play trumpet in the 5th grade. He made the biggest impact on me as a teacher, musician and role model for my life.
I cried the day he left Georgiana Training School to become the Band Director at Carver High School in Montgomery.
He finished his educational career and his life as Director of Bands at Hampton University in Hampton, Va.
He was a mentor and friend who was in constant contact throughout his life until he passed. I learned so much from his personality and dedication to perfecting myself as a musician.
The rigid practice and discipline he instilled gave me confidence and positive motivation that carried over into other areas of my life. This was especially important for me as a young African American male growing up in the south.
My passion for music and the arts afforded me many wonderful opportunities, including being the first African American to enter the Ritz Theater through the front door, and sit on the main floor for a performance.
This was particularly rare in that I and other people of color were relegated to entering the theater from the rear and seated in the balcony in those times.
I was recruited to Greenville High School based on my musicianship. My then drama instructor, Mrs. Roberta Gamble, escorted our cast of “Hello Dolly” to the Ritz Theater for a viewing of the movie.
I will forever be grateful to her for that opportunity.
In closing, all that I am as a child of the Creator, musician, actor and educator was molded in my formative years by three African American heroes: Mrs. Ruby Womack, Mrs. Lillian Gregory and Mr. Barney Smart.
Thank you for your guidance. May God bless them all.
Dr. Anthony T. Womack, Ed.D.