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African American Women Play Musical Instruments: Kentucky: Musicians and Bandleaders

Names, Links, and Lists of African American women who play or played musical instruments.

Joan W. Brannon (b.1963)

Joan W. Brannon, born in Lexington, KY, is a percussionist and teacher.  She has been playing percussion instruments for 20 years. Joan founded the drumming collectives, Sisters of the Sacred Drum and the Sacred Drum Ensemble. Joan has performed and drummed throughout the US and in Guinea, West Africa. Joan teaches drumming empowerment classes for youth, enrichment circles for women, and she facilitates workshops in a variety of settings to bring the power of percussion into community.

Julia Britton Hooks (1852-1942)

Julia B. Hooks was born in Frankfort, KY.  In addition to being a pianists, she was also social worker, educator, and juvenile court officer.  "In 1869 Julia enrolled in Berea College to study music.  She graduated in 1874 as the second African American female graduate of Berea College.  For two years following her graduation, Julia served as Berea’s first African American faculty member.  She taught music." ~ Quote source: Britton Hooks, Julia: Home, a Berea College Hutchins Library website.

"Julia Hooks became a leader in African American cultural and educational affairs [in Memphis, TN]. In 1883 she and Anna Church, the wife of Robert Church Sr., launched the Liszt-Mullard Club to promote classical music and raise money for scholarships for promising black musicians. She founded the Hooks School of Music, whose students included W. C. Handy, Sidney Woodward, and Nell Hunter." ~ Quote source: Julian Britton Hooks, The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture website.

See also the Julia Britton Hooks entry in the NKAA Database.

Leora Meaux (1893-1958)

Leora Meaux, born in Louisville, KY, was a classically trained cornet, trumpet, and saxophone player, and she also played the trombone. She left Kentucky and moved to New York City where she played with a number of all-women groups, including the vaudeville group called Musical Spillers, and she was leader of her band, the Vampires. Leora Meaux was the wife of musician Russell Smith from Kentucky, and later married musician Fletcher Henderson. For more information see her entry in the NKAA Database.

Blue Grass Orchestra (1905-?)

In 1905, the Blue Grass Female Orchestra was organized in Lexington, KY by George W. Neighbors. Members of the orchestra in 1907 were Alice Richardson, Ethel White, Estella Braxton, Mattie Hamilton, Mary B. Johnson, Bertha Neighbors, Mary Randolph, Gertrude Ferguson, Nellie Gibson, Mattie Saunders, Mary E. Mitchell and Olive Thomas.  Mrs. Bertha Fortune Neighbors, born 1883 in Cave City, KY, was the first cornetist in the orchestra and she was the wife of G. W. Neighbors.  She also played the cornet in the senior choir at Main Street Baptist Church in Lexington, and she performed alone and sometimes with her husband as a duet.  For more information about the Blue Grass Female Orchestra and Bertha F. Neighbors, see the Lexington Leader, 08/03/1905, p.2, and The Negro Population of Lexington in the Professions, Business, Education and Religion by L. Harris, pp. [8 & 9] in photocopy c.2 of title at UK Special Collections. For more about the Neighbor's family see their entry in the NKAA Database

Valerie Coleman (b.1970)

Valerie Coleman was born in Louisville, KY. "Composer and flutist, Valerie Coleman is a distinct voice in a new generation of African-American artists who combine African-American heritage and urban culture to contemporary music. She is the 2003 recipient of the Edward and Sally Van Lier Fellowship – a nomination-based award given by Meet the Composer to emerging composers of merit, and she is the founder of the critically acclaimed Imani Winds." Source: "Valeria Coleman" at the International Opus website. Accessed April 11, 2017. See also the website Valerie Coleman, Composer & Flutist.

Rose Lillian Carpenter (1893-1980)

Rose Lillian Carpenter, born in Bowling Green, KY, was a pianist. She earned an A.B. degree from State University [Simmons University in Louisville], and Bachelor's and Master's of Music Education degrees from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. In 1927 she replaced Professor Jay Fay as a teacher of music in the Louisville Negro schools. For more information see her entry in the NKAA Database.

Ida Mae Baker Maple (1896-?)

Ida Mae Baker, born in Paducah, KY, was a piano player and she was head of the six member group called the Melody Masters Orchestra.  She was also head of Ida Mae Maples Merry Makers, both groups were in Chicago, IL, where her groups were in high demand. Her band and orchestra had both men and women musicians. Ida Mae Baker had left Kentucky in 1919 and moved to Chicago to marry Dewey E. Maple who was also from Kentucky. Her stage name was "Ida Mae Maple" and her last name is spelled "Maples" in some sources. In Paducah, KY, she had been a music teacher. Ida Mae Baker had attended State University (Louisville) and Chicago Musical College. For more see her entry in the NKAA Database.

Other Women Musicians from / in Kentucky

Past (from U.S. Census)

Saffell, Daisy M. - (1875-1918), born in Louisville, KY, she was an accomplished pianist.

Scott, Mary - b.1860 in Kentucky, lived in Chicago where she and her husband George W. Scott were musicians in a theatre.

Smith, Leola - b.1897 in Kentucky, lived in Chicago where she was a musician in a music store.

Tolan, Effie Mae - b.1899 in Kentucky, lived in Hutchison, KA, where she was a musician at a night club.

Tuner, Emma - b.1874 in Tennessee, lived in Paducah, KY, where she was a musician in an orchestra.

Voss, Arletta - b.1909 in Kentucky, lived in Nashville, TN, where she was a musician in a theatre.

Wolderton, Mary - b.1910 in Kentucky, lived in Superior, WI, where she was a musician in an orchestra.

Yarbough, Cammie Dillard - (1898-1938), born in Charleston, KY (Hopkins County), lived in Terre Haute, IN, where she was a musician at a club house. She was the daughter of Anna Williams and Thomas Dillard. She is buried in Madisonville, KY.

Young, Aurelia J. Norris - (1915-2010), born in Knottsville, KY, she played the organ, piano,violin, and the French horn.

Angelina M. Huguely (b.1965)

Angelina M. Huguely, born in Richmond, KY, is a graduated of Eastern Kentucky University with a B.S. degree in Occupational Therapy and currently practices at a regional medical center. She has been playing the saxophone since elementary school and continued playing at the college level in symphonic and jazz bands, but receives her greatest joy from playing gospel music. She says that God has blessed her to share the stage with such gospel artists as Dorothy Norwood, Yolanda Adams, Richard Smallwood, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Tramaine Hawkins, Tamela Mann, and Kathy Taylor. Additionally, she performs with A Taste of Heaven, an ensemble of Christian musicians based in Lexington, Kentucky. In January 2013, the Lexington, Kentucky chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority presented Angelina with the Coretta Scott King “Spirit of Ivy” award in the category of Creative and Performing Arts.

Angelina M. Huguely may be contacted on Facebook.

Sarah McLawler (b.1926)

Sarah McLawler, born in Louisville, KY, played the Hammond B-3 organ. She led an all-female band, the Syn-Co-Ettes, and she helped popularize the jazz organ when few women were playing this instrument. She has a number of recordings on the King and Brunswick labels. Sarah McLawler studied at Fisk University and Indiana Conservatory. For more information see her entry in the NKAA Database.

Zella M. Hunter (1890-?)

Zella M. Hunter was born in Newport, KY, and would become a noted pianist in Chicago.  In 1908, Zella Hunter was about 19 years old when she played piano at the Bijou Theatre in Mason City Iowa, and in 1909, she was pianist at the Star Theatre also in Mason City, Iowa.  In 1913, Zella Hunter was in Chicago and she played the piano at the Pompeii Cabaret. She would remain in Chicago and in 1930 she was the wife of Oley? Wilson, an actor from Virginia. Zella Hunter played piano in an orchestra. For more information see her entry in the NKAA Database

Other Women Musicians from / in Kentucky

Past (from U.S. Census)

Mitchell, Susie - b.1885 in Kentucky, lived in Chicago where she was a musician in a restaurant. 

Moore, Ailene - b.1904 in Kentucky, lived in Chicago where she was a piano player in a theater and in an orchestra.

Nickles, Frances - b.1897 in Kentucky, lived in Louisville, KY, where she and her husband Luther were musicians in an orchestra.

Offet, Hattie - b.1882 in Kentucky, lived in Detroit, MI, where she was a musician in a theatre.

Pate, Stella - b.1895 in Kentucky, lived in Denver, CO, where she and her husband Pedro were vaudeville musicians.

Perry, Julia A. - (1924-1979), born in Lexington, KY, lived in Akron, OH, she was a piano player and composer.

Robington, Bulah - b.1889 in Kentucky, lived in Casper, WY, where she was piano player in the entertainment industry.

Other Women Musicians from / in Kentucky

PRESENT

Baker, Amber - from Lexington, KY, plays the drums.

Bullock, Kathy - Berea College: Chair of the Music Program and Professor of music.

Fletcher, Cynthia - from Louisville, KY, plays the dulcimer.

Lowery, Karen - b.1955 in Louisville, KY, a violinist with the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra. Source: Black Women in American Bands and Orchestras by D. A. Handy.

Pettigrew, Luella E. - b.1928 in Hopkinsville, KY, a pianist.

PAST [From U.S. Census]

Adams, Adelaide - b.1917 in Kentucky, lived in Chicago, where she was a musician at a hotel.

Anderson, Carrie - b.1878 in Kentucky, lived in Louisville, KY, where she and her husband Jim were piano players in the theatre.

Barbur, Louisa Baldock - b.1881 in Kentucky, lived in Danville, KY, where she played piano in an orchestra.

Boyd, Caroline - b.1886 in Kentucky, lived in Chicago where she was a musician in the entertainment industry.

Brady, Juanita - b.1 892 in Frankfort, KY, lived in Chicago where she was a musician. She was the daughter of Johnsonia Buckner Brady and musician Horace Brady.

Brown, Bessie - b.1888 in Kentucky, lived in Indianapolis, IN, where she was a musician in the comic opera.

Brown, Dora - b.1880 in Kentucky, lived in Brooklyn, NY, where she was a musician in an orchestra.

Brown, Nellie - b.1919 in Berea, KY, lived in Cincinnati, OH, where she was a musician with a traveling band.

Caldwell, Lottie - b.1889 in Kentucky, lived in Manhattan, NY, where she was a musician in an orchestra.

Caston, H. Beatrice - b.1893 in Kentucky, lived in Kansas City where she was a musician.

Cawl, Jesse - b.1912 in Kentucky, lived in Louisville, KY, where she was a musician in an orchestra.

Clay, Ollie - (1888-1977). Born in Paris, KY; died in Chicago; buried in Benton Harbor, MI, where she had earlier lived and played in her husband's orchestra, Barak G. Clay Orchestra.

Conklin, Alberta - b.1895 in Kentucky, lived in New York City, where she was a musician at the WPA.

Cotillier, Bertha - b.1899 in Kentucky, lived in Duluth, MN, where she and her husband Theodore were musicians in an orchestra.

Crittenden, Olive - b.1889 in Kentucky, lived in San Antonio, TX, where she owned and led the Olive Crittenden Orchestra.

Davis, Susie - b.1879 in Kentucky, lived in Pittsburgh, PA, where she was a dance hall musician.

Derritt, Beatrice - b.1900 in Mississippi, lived in Paducah, KY, where she and her brother Eugene were musicians in the theatre.

Dill, Callie - b.1910 in Kentucky, lived in Hot Springs, AR, where she was a theater musician.

Emanuel, Anne - b.1903 in Kentucky, lived in New York City, where she was a musician at the W. P. A. Center.

Gilbert, Faye E. - b.1897 in Kentucky, lived in Grand Rapids, MI, where she was a musician.

Graham, Georgia - b.1886 in Kentucky, lived in Danville, KY, where she was the musician at the dance school.

Green, Mattie - b.1906 in Kentucky, lived in Lexington, KY, where she was a musician in an orchestra.

Harris, Ella - b.1890 in Kentucky, lived in Indianapolis, IN, where she was a musician in shows.

Hicks, Beulah - b.1894 in Kentucky, lived in Milwaukee, WI, where she was piano player at the cabaret.

Howard, Mabel - b.1898 in Kentucky, lived in Toledo, OH, where she was a musician in an orchestra.

Jackson, Mattie - b.1878 in Kentucky, lived in Omaha, NE, where she was a piano player.

Jefferson, Willie - b.1910 in Kentucky, lived in Blairsville, IL, where she was a musician at the W. P. A.

Joplin, Florence - (1841-1881), born free in Kentucky, she played the banjo.

Lair, Florence W. - b.1890 in Kentucky, lived in Chicago where she was a musician in an orchestra.

Leavell (Allensworth), Josephine - (1855-1938) born in Trenton, KY, lived in Allensworth, CA, then Los Angeles, CA where she died in 1938. She was an organist.