Female pianists in southern gospel
Writing that last post, I realized that a brief addendum is in order to earlier posts on gender and southern gospel: whither the female pianist? Eva Mae LeFevre, Rosa Nell Speer, Connie Hopper – these are only the most famous names who performed on the stage in a bygone era. The Phillipses – Eloise and Tracey – are masterful studio players and teachers to a thousand well-known (which is these days to say male) sg pianists. And I know of at least one female who has filled in on occasion for top-tier groups. But with the exception of Kathy Crabb’s intermittent work at the keyboard with the Crabb Family in their early days and Denise Hopper’s brief stint with the Hoppers, I can’t think of a single woman who plays the piano with any degree of regularity in today’s sg. Kim Collingsworth would be the only one, would she not? assuming the Collingsworth Family breaks into the big time.
I bring this up for what it’s worth. Though I do wish there were more women on the piano benches in full-time top-tier sg (and more women generally in positions of power and influence in gospel music), I don’t think this decline of the female pianist is a sign of regression, necessarily. The women of a generation or two ago who played piano for major groups did so not least of all because in those early days of gospel music’s rise, there was enough residue of Victorian domestic values for piano playing to be associated with effeminacy and the woman’s sphere (remember, before the professionalization of church music, church musicians were almost always women). As soon as gospel music was industrialized, so to speak, men quickly ascended to the piano bench and have kept it ever since, for the most part (though do point out the instances I’ve overlooked please). Do as many teenage girls dream of playing sg piano as boys? Is the reticence of non-family gender mixing in evangelical culture (Mary Tom Speer Reid cited this in her comments for the Nashville Scene article about the lack of women in sg) still an obstacle to more females breaking into full-time gospel music at the young age it is necessary to establish oneself professionally? Have any group owners or managers auditioned female pianists (or other talent) or refused to because of ambivalence of the logistics of traveling with a woman? Or do women simply not apply for these jobs, because they assume they’ll be disqualified or for othe reasons?Email this Post