Sunday, August 15, 2010

Piano Ladies of Clairton Churches

Clairton Today and Yesterday

Welcome to Clairton, City of Prayer: We have written many blogs on the fact that Clairton is and was a place of worship. The closing of most of the mills along the river may have dampened the economic stature of our hometown but it has done little to dampen the faith and spirit of residents who’ve remained. Take Lillian Gibson for example. As fair young lass she played the piano very well. Her skills were requested in many venues but none gave her the enjoyment of playing during Sunday services at Gethsemane Church of God in Christ. Of course, that was back during another time of economic downturn in Clairton, the 1930s and beginning of the Great Depression. But regardless of the economic climate outside, inside the church Lillian continued to play that church piano for the next 40 years.

Time has a way of restricting the physical prowess of the body and as Lillian became elderly she began to relinquish the bench to other, younger pianists during worship services. But although she no longer plays at services, that does not mean she no longer contributes to her church. Lillian continues her church work as a food bank volunteer coordinator and as a district missionary and altar guild member of the church. She began to worship at Gethsemane Church of God in Christ in 1926 and continues to this day, at age 94.

Mrs. Gibson was a charter member of Gethsemane church, and she is the last remaining of that group. Although she no longer creates the music by pounding the ivories on Sunday morning, she still rejoices in the music and hymns just as she did nearly a century ago.

Lillian has received much well deserved recognition for her contributions over the years. On a recent Sunday she was given one of the most prestigious honors one could have received when seven local women who played piano or organ at their respective churches for decades were honored with the first Mrs. Lillian Gibson Music Award during a Jazz Brunch for Musical Legends.

The event was held at the Georgetown Centre in nearby Pleasant Hills and sponsored by the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Clairton. Honorees included: Edith Worthy, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Clairton; Aubrey Harper, Morning Star Baptist Church, Clairton; Betty Fort and Asaline Peterson, Mount Olive First Baptist Church, Clairton; Mae Etta Grimball, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, McKeesport; Mildred Everson, Gethsemane; and Bishop Thelma Mitchell, Living Waters International, Clairton.

Mr. Melvin C. Long who plays at Clairton’s First African Methodist Episcopal church and was co-chair of the event presented the original idea. He dubbed them “the piano ladies” and planned to give them some recognition.

Edith Worthy, one of the honorees at the presentation played the piano and organ at Mr. Long’s church for 62 years and served as his inspiration me to play at the church. Ms. Worthy became Mr. Long’s mentor, and in a typical act of paying it forward, Mr. Long presented the idea of recognition.

Among the honorees Mrs. Aubrey Harper has played the piano at churches since she was age 18 and at Morning Star Baptist since she was 30. Today, she plays only the organ and serves as minister of music at Morningstar Baptist. Mrs. Fort has played the piano at Mount Olive and Morning Star Baptist churches since 1941. Mrs. Asaline Peterson started playing the piano at age 7 and continues to play for her home church. Mrs. Etta Grimball has played the keyboard, piano and organ at local churches for 61 years, beginning at age 14.

Mrs. Mildred Everson began her piano playing for the young people's and senior choirs. Thirty years later in the 1970s, she was still playing at church.
Bishop Mitchell had her first music lesson at age 7, and a year later played during devotions at elementary school and in Sunday School. Sixty-two years later, she still plays the piano at church and in concert.

A tip of the hat to the golden fingers and inspiration of the wonderful “Piano Ladies” of Clairton and surrounding communities.

A Sunday Smile: We could not end this post without providing something to smile about so we reached way back into our bag of Sunday humor and came up with the following story: One Sunday morning before church began, while the pastor was greeting the congregation as they passed through the foyer, he noticed one of his younger members staring at a display in the lobby. The pastor walked up to the boy of about six or seven and asked him what he thought of the display. The display included a beautiful plaque with names and photos of young men and women, most of whom were in uniform. The plaque was draped with American flags and the sign above said, “In Memoriam.”

The pastor asked the lad if he understood the purpose of the plaque and the boy admitted he did not, so the pastor explained that the young men and women pictured and listed on the plaque had died in the service.

The boy stood for a few minutes deep in thought then in wide-eyed innocence asked the pastor, “Which service? The 9:00 or the 11:00.”

A little blogging music Maestro... “Ebony and Ivory” by the musical group Wings.

Dr. Forgot

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