Mrs. Lucille Brooks played the piano for her church until two years ago.
“Black people are full of music,” said 102-year-old Lucille Brooks. She should know. While she currently spends her days in the home she shares with her daughter on a quiet street in Catonsville, she’s spent a lifetime teaching the children of Baltimore the value of music and how to play the piano.
A legacy of work that is being recognized and honored, Oct. 26, at the annual banquet of the Rosa Pryor Music Scholarship Fund that enables young people to have private lessons and attend music schools all over the country.
It’s easy to imagine Brooks as a stern but kind teacher. Although her body is weaker – she spends a lot of her days in bed – her mind is still sharp. She banters with her daughter who sits with her during the interview to help her hear my questions. When asked about music, she closes her eyes and clasps her hands together.
When I ask her what her favorite songs are, she closes her eyes and sings. One of the songs is called “He Loves Me Dearly.” Another, she and her daughter hum-sing to remember the words. Eventually they get it. “The Love of Jesus Satisfies Me.”
She began playing and singing when she was 10 or 11 years old at her mother’s encouragement. Her mother found a man who travelled around Baltimore teaching children to play. Her mother bought a piano for the house and soon, Brooks was playing at her church – Waters AME – despite a little bit of stage fright.
“I didn’t want to play at first,” she says. “You know how little girls are.”
She just stopped playing in her church, Martin Luther King Community Church in Columbia, about a year and a half ago. She says she misses the pipe organ and wishes she could play it one more time.
Much like the man who taught her, Brooks got her start traveling around the city looking for children to teach. She would charge them $1 a lesson.
“I’ve had a lot of good students,” she said. “Some remember me but I don’t remember them.”
One notable student was Dr. Audrey McCallum, the first Black person to attend and graduate from the Peabody Prepatory School. Another, the Rev. Jimmie MacDonald, has performed with the Rev. Billy Graham.
How many students has she had over the years? Too many to remember.
Lots of her students call and check on her. There are fresh flowers on display in her bedroom – a gift from one. In addition to private lessons, Brooks taught at Dunbar, Carver and Lake Clifton high schools. Two years ago, about 150 people, many of whom were her former students, came to sing for her at Union Baptist Church in Baltimore in celebration of her 100th birthday.
She hasn’t limited her life just to Baltimore, either. Brooks studied a bit at New York University, before graduating from Morgan State University. Her post-graduate studies took her as far as France, London and Nairobi. She played in all of those places.
As I was preparing to leave her, Brooks asks about my own children and tells me, emphatically to be good to them and raise them well. I ask if all children should learn to play the piano.
“Oh yes. It keeps them busy, it makes them follow through and it makes them feel good,” she said.