Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Martin Gladu Publishes Essay 'Odd Man Out' on Calvin Douglas Lampley (1924-2006), African American Classical Pianist and Composer

Cover photo: Calvin Lampley backstage at the 1957 Newport Festival. Courtesy of Sony Music Archives.

Members of the B-1 Band jamming.
 Courtesy of the North Carolina State Archives.

'Odd Man Out: A biographical essay on the life and career of Calvin Lampley' (1924-2006) by Martin Gladu was Printed in Canada. It is Copyright © 2012 by Martin Gladu, who offered to make it available to AfriClassical. A Press Release on the biographical essay is entitled: Former All About Jazz Contributor Martin Gladu Publishes Biographical Essay On Calvin Lampley.

Take One: Family, the North Carolina Years and the 364th

William Lorenzo Lampley and Hettie Marina were teenaged newlyweds. At the time of their union, Hettie was fifteen and her husband was two years her senior. He hailed from nearby South Carolina and, like her mother, Hettie was born in the District of Columbia (her father was from North Carolina.)1 Whether they were precipitated into marriage or whether theirs was a love affair too passionate to be consumed outside marriage will forever remain a mystery. That said, one may safely posit that the pregnancy of the young couple’s first child, William Elwood (born in 1919), had a role to play in their decision.

This is how things were done in rural America at the time; with children came marital vows. Shortly after the birth of his first son, William Sr was hired as a dry cleaner/presser at the Globe Tailoring Company’s East Broad Street’s pressing club by its manager Mr. Baxter A. Rolland. Hettie, for her part, became a teacher at one of the local schools for coloured people. Only half a decade later, in the midst of the Great Depression, would the couple give William Jr a sibling.

Calvin Douglas Lampley was born on March 4, 1924 in Dunn, North Carolina. He was raised in what was known then as the “country” part of Dunn’s South Clinton Avenue by a stern yet caring mother who “worked really hard,” 2 and who had a passion for music.  Probably sensing a bubbling musical talent in her youngest son, Hettie first decided to teach the boy some rudimentary pianistic techniques before arranging for lessons with the local church’s pianist3.  Her efforts soon came to fruition when young Calvin was accepted in the reputed A&T College music program circa 19394. Indeed, considering he was either fifteen or sixteen when he attented the institution, his graduating in 1942 is certainly telling in terms of his precocious musical ability.  But what is more surprising is to see him as Chapel Hill Presbyterian’s organist in the early 40’s5. Chapel Hill Presbyterian was in no way a minor congregation, quite on the contrary, and Hettie had every reason to be proud of her loving son.

The importance of Chapel Hill Presbyterian and A&T College in the sociocultural history of the Carolinas is inestimable. As a matter of fact, the church, who is located on East Franklin Street in the enclave of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, remains to this day a hub of activism and egality.  And although A&T College has been rechristened the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University at Greensboro, it has not lost any of its collegiate effervescence. Headed by soprano Ethyl Wise (from 1933 to 1936) and then by violinist Bernard Lee Mason, its music school has continually churned out hordes of capable graduates, saxophonists Jackie McLean, Lou Donaldson and drummer Dannie Richmond being the most convenient examples. More, it can pride itself on having once employed such notable faculty members as chorus director Edwin Dunham, baritone Charles Grayson Colman and Oscar Anderson Fuller, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in music6. For his part, Lampley was to befriend a group of instrumentalists who, for the majority, attended the school’s renowned band program (then under the direction of Professor Mason). Already well-rehearsed thanks to countless performances, marches and parades, these young musicians were to make history as the first all-black band in the then white-only Navy, the US Navy B-1 Band.

The brainchild of leading political and educational figures (namely President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, UNC President Frank Porter Graham, NC Governor J. Melville Broughton, amongst others), the 45-piece B-1 Band enlisted its first recruits in early May 1942. Rigorously selected by a committee composed of Governor Broughton and Navy Chief Bandmaster C.E. Dudrow, most of them had been trained - or were still training - in the A&T College band7.  Although an hypothetical involvement with the unit seems very unlikely (because he played piano), Lampley was certainly known and respected by its constituents from his position as Chapel Hill Presbyterian’s organist. “We all knew about Dr. Graham from Calvin Lampley,” said B-1 veteran William Gibson, “who was the organist at Dr. Graham’s church, and that was pretty rare to have a black in a position like that.”8 As a matter fact, evidence of Gibson’s affirmation comes in the archived correspondence and writings of Chapel Hill Presbyterian’s then (caucasian) pastor, Reverend Charles Miles Jones, the man most likely to have hired a young African American undergraduate9.

Though it ultimately caused his resignation, Reverend Jones’ longstanding activism and challenges of the Jim Crow laws - most heroically during the first Freedom Ride in 1947 - facilitated his bonding with both the church youth and the members of the B-1 Band.  Through leisure activities organized by and for the congregation, he gradually came to earn both their trust and respect10.  To this day, Reverend Jones is regarded as a seminal figure in the fight against discrimination. Little did he know that Lampley would, in his own way, similarly strive for egality through his life’s work. Considering he was about seventeen when he served as Jones’ organist, one can posit that the young pianist was proficient enough to accompany the holy Service.  In fact, we can surmise that his studies with A&T College’s renowned pedagogue Warner Lawson had already provided him with a strong enough musical foundation to aptly perform such a
function11.  And Hettie herself had also played an important part in her son’s preparation.

Lampley recalled: “When I was a youngster it mattered not whether I was practicing the piano or trying to compose something, sooner or later my mother would interrupt me with ‘all right boy – it is time for you to take a break and play me one of those old hymns’ (...) I would often play too hymns simultaneously or interpolate jazz (...) with a little dissonance (...) But in the end I would just play the hymn straight and shut up.”12

Following in the footsteps of his B-1 friends, Lampley was called into active service on April 15, 1942.  Having just turned eighteen, he was assigned to the Service Company of the U.S Infantry’s 364th Regiment on November 18, 194213. According to Sergeant Giles W. Morton, himself a member of the 364th’s Service Company, “Service Company had the better-educated troops in it. They were the clerks and also the maintenance men and mechanics that took care of the regimental vehicles...”14 After receiving basic training at Fort Bragg, he joined the regiment at Papago Park, Arizona to then make the three day and night train trip to Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi in late May 1943. Following a brief
trip doing maneuvers at the Louisiana Maneuver Area - which was probably disturbed by the death of his mother on September 22, 1943 - the regiment was then entrained to Fort Walton, Seattle on December 25, 1943 to begin its journey to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Though his specific post and duties remain nebulous, most Service Company men were stationed on Adak Island where they were ordered to do port battalion work (ie: loading and unloading ships). Some men reported having to “go out searching for guys who got lost and died in snowstorms.”15 Considering he was released from the Army only on January 22, 1946, it appears likely he performed other duties while on his Alaskan tour. In any event, he nevertheless found time to take music lessons from a certain Hans Paiglas - whom he credited for introducing him to the brilliance of Bach and Beethoven - while stationed there16.  Following his release from the military, he returned to North Carolina and sought the tutelage of eminent pianist-musicologist William Stein Newman.

Reputed for his 3-volume set History of the Sonata Idea, for his music appreciation textbook Understanding Music, and for his many works on performance practice, Newman is remembered in the Chapel Hill community as a passionate and generous teacher. He and his spouse took great pleasure in throwing home parties at which as much as 200 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill music students and faculty attended atonce.  Interestingly, during such festivities Newman taught many of his students “how to repair their cars and broken electronic equipments,”17 a skill Lampley had most probably already acquired during his stay in the 364th’s Service Company.

But prior to his enrolling in the Army and seeking Newman’s tutelage, Lampley had studied with another renowned teacher, pianist-conductor Warner Lawson. Indeed, the brilliant pedagogue had not only graduated from both Yale and Harvard, but had once traveled to Berlin to perfect his technique with the illustrious pianist-composer Artur Schnabel18.  More, Lawson would later act as Dean of the Howard University’s School of Music from 1942 until his passing in 1971, raising its international profile and boasting such superstars as Jessye Norman and Roberta Flack. To this day, he is chiefly known for developing one of the US’s leading collegiate vocal ensembles, the Howard University Choir.

Though he is also remembered for once banning students from rehearsing jazz, R&B and gospel pieces in the school’s practice rooms, Lawson’s more notorious accomplishment was his mentoring a surprisingly healthy stock of the nation’s most prominent black choir directors, a legacy still very much alive today. He himself came from a strong tradition of leadership and outstanding musicianship as the son of Raymond Augustus Lawson, a concert pianist and teacher who was once responsible for sending a contingent of over 500 young men to study at his alma mater, Fisk University19. It must be noted that Raymond Augustus Lawson knew Ossip Gabrilowitsch and Theodor Leschetizsky from his studies in Europe at the turn of the century. Warner Lawson, who most probably became Schnabel’s pupil thanks to his father’s relationship with Leschetizsky, had also attended Fisk on a Juilliard scholarship. But more important to our subject matter is the fact that he served as A&T College’s Director of Music until 1942. Although Lampley was Newman’s pupil for only a few months, both the erudite professor and Lawson’s teachings have prepared him well for the musical opportunities to come.

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