musical lives, remembered in story & sound

Emma Lee Dickerson -- 5. Looking Upwards

 Near the end of her life, Emma Lee, in Carl’s words, “got saved.” A woman who hadn’t grown up particularly religious, she, as an adult was an active member of her church, which she helped found. As she grew older, she found new inspiration and dedication towards Christianity.

Once she was saved, Carl said, “She quit playing. I seen her play it one time, for those other people, just to please them. I don’t know, she never did tell me why she quit, whether she felt condemned or what it was.” His narrative connected, strongly, her quitting to play, and her being saved.

She did continue to play the guitar at church, as she had often done. She, with her husband, helped to found the Westwood Church of God, ministries first given from the garage, next door. They had no piano, or organ; Emma Lee accompanied singers, and sang songs herself. “My dad was proud. He loved to hear her play,” Sharon recalled. “He would carry her guitar into church.” Not musical himself, he “did what he could do, and he’d carry her guitar in.”

At church, said Sharon, Dickerson had none of the shyness or reticence that she attached to playing fiddle tunes. “She was playing for different reasons. It wasn’t to be seen then, really.” Instead, it was about accompaniment of the singer, the music used to express devotion. A performance that was never about the performer, but focused on the words and intent of the songs; spreading the gospel, and praising the Lord.

Emma Lee’s husband died in ’91, of a heart attack. She passed away, ten years later, a great-grandmother. She lived to hear her great granddaughter play Amazing Grace on the violin, said Sharon, a young woman who’s long played classical violin, and now wants to learn how to play the music her great-grandmother played.