Lucie E. Campbell (1885 – 1963)
Lucie E. Campbell (Williams) was born on April 3, 1885, in Duck Hill (Carroll County), Mississippi, the youngest of nine children of Burrell and Isabella (Wilkerson) Campbell. Her father worked for the Mississippi Central Railroad and her mother worked as a cook. Shortly after Lucie’s birth, Burrell Campbell was killed in a train accident. In 1889 Isabella Campbell moved her family to Memphis. She not only wanted her children to receive an education, but she also wanted them exposed to the performing arts. She could not afford a musical education for all of her children, so Isabella sent Lora, Lucie’s sister, for piano lessons. Lucie would listen and practice the lessons on her own. When Lora wanted to cease the lessons, Lucie readily embraced the opportunity. Educated in the Memphis public schools, in 1899 Lucie Campbell graduated from Kortrecht High School (later Booker T. Washington) as class valedictorian at the age of fourteen. Later, she earned her baccalaureate degree from Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and a master’s degree from Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University.
Campbell began her teaching career at Carnes Avenue Grammar School. In 1911 she was transferred to her high school alma mater where she taught American history and English. Respected by her colleagues as an educator, Campbell was elected vice president of the American Teachers Association. From 1941 to 1946 she served as president of the Tennessee Teachers Association (TTA). The same year that her tenure as president of the TTA ended, Campbell was named to the National Policy Planning Commission of the National Educational Association.
Like other women of her era, Campbell was an activist for civil and social justice. In the same city that saw Ida B. Wells once take a determined stance against segregation, and coming a decade before Rosa Parks’ galvanizing act of civil disobedience, Campbell too defied the era’s Jim Crow laws by refusing to relinquish a seat in the whites-only section of a streetcar. As president of the Negro Education Association, she struggled with governmental officials to redress the pay scale and benefit inequities for Negro teachers. In 1938, at the invitation of President Franklin Roosevelt, Campbell attended the Negro Child Welfare Conference.
While pursuing her vocation as a professional educator, Campbell also pursued her musical avocation. In 1904 she organized a group of Beale Street musicians into the Music Club. This group later became a thousand voice choir under the direction of Lucie that performed at the National Baptist Convention. In 1915 she was elected the Music Director of the National Sunday School and Baptist Training union Congress. She wrote songs and pageants for the Congress as well as the Congress’ study lessons and other instructional materials. In 1919, she published her first song, ‘Something Within’ followed by more than 100 other songs.
In her position as music director for the National Baptist Convention’s Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress, Campbell introduced young promising talent and auditioned musicians to appear before the convention’s audiences. Such individuals included Marian Anderson, J. Robert Bradley, Thomas A. Dorsey, and Mahalia Jackson. In 1919, twenty years before she was denied access to Washington’s Constitutional Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Campbell introduced Marian Anderson (the first African-American singer to perform with the Metropolitan Opera) to the convention and served as her accompanist. She also discovered renowned Baptist singer J. Robert Bradley when he was twelve years old. Selected in the 1940s by English composer Roger Quilter to introduce his songs, Bradley gained global fame as “Mr. Baptist.”
Lucie was the first woman among pioneering African-American gospel music composers such as the Reverend Charles Albert Tindley, Thomas Andrew Dorsey, and the Reverend William Herbert Brewster. A trailblazing composer during the “Golden Age of Gospel,” she published more than one hundred compositions in America’s newly created musical genre, including “The Lord Is My Shepherd” (1921), “He’ll Understand and Say Well Done” (1933), “In the Upper Room” and “My Lord and I” (1947), and “Footprints of Jesus” (1949). Major gospel singers including Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, and Ruth Davis and the Davis Sisters recorded her songs. Campbell, like Tindley and Dorsey, endeavored to articulate the conventional language of everyday people in her compositions. As a composer her professional career covered the years from 1919 to 1962, a forty-three-year period during which few years passed without her penning a composition. Sung by everyone, Campbell’s songs became standards. From 1919 through the 1920s and 1930s many of her songs were included in the Gospel Pearls, Inspirational Melodies No. 2, and Spirituals Triumphant Old and New, songbooks published by the Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.
On January 14, 1960, Lucie E. Campbell married her lifelong companion and business partner, the Reverend C. R. Williams. In June 1962, while preparing to attend a banquet held in her honor given by the National Sunday School and the Baptist Training Union Congress of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., Campbell-Williams became gravely ill. She died six months later on January 3, 1963, in Nashville.
Sources and further reading:
An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage by Marvin McMickle
Bobby L. Lovett and Linda T. Wynn, Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee History (1996); Elizabeth Patrick, “Lucie (Lucy) Campbell Williams” in Notable Black American Women, Jessie C. Smith, ed. (1992); William M. Washington, ed., Miss Lucie Speaks (1971).