LOOKING BACK AT MONROE

MONROE’S MUSIC LEGENDS

BY

NOWELL BRISCOE

 

The appreciation I have towards organ and vocal music can be attributed to four Monroe citizens who were long recognized for their musical abilities years before the advent of the Monroe Art Guild or the musical concerts that have recently come into vogue.

These four people, two from Monroe First Baptist Church, and two from Monroe First Methodist Church, were recognized as true talents in the music field, and how unique it was that these churches were two blocks away from each other.

The Baptist Church duo was Mrs. Harry M. (Sarah) Arnold, choir member and soprano soloist along with Mrs. Mason (Kate) Williams, who served as organist. As Mrs. Arnold‘s voice bloomed in the sanctuary of the church, she was usually accompanied by Mrs. Williams at the organ. Together these two ladies gave freely and generously of their talents, both serving in their duties for 40 years. They both were always ready and available for weddings, funerals and other social gatherings.  Mrs. Williams had the distinct privilege of playing the only pipe organ in the city at the time. Another unique thing about this partnership was that the two musicians lived across the street from one another.

 

A short distance away, at Monroe First Methodist was another musical team, this time a family linked pair, who gave the same generous time of their talents in like fashion.  Mrs. Paul N. (Miss Jennie) Launius, came to Monroe to teach music in the local schools.  It was shortly after arriving here that she met her future husband.  After their marriage, she took over the role of organist and choir director of the church.  Her brother-in-law, Dennie B. Launius, was already a stalwart member of the church, serving as longtime choir member and tenor soloist.  Having grown up in the Methodist Church, I had a greater opportunity to hear and appreciate the talents of Miss Jennie and Dennie Launius, but various opportunities were afforded me to enjoy the same wonderful talents provided at the Baptist Church by Mrs. Arnold and Mrs. Williams.

In 1970 I attended an organ concert in Atlanta by the famed virtuoso Virgil Fox, who was organist for the renowned Riverside Church in New York City.  Accompanying Virgil for this recital was his good friend and featured soprano soloist at the Riverside, Hazel Gravell.  During his concert, Virgil had invited Hazel to sing two songs in which he accompanied her on the organ.  When I heard Hazel sing, I thought to myself, “This is incredible.  She sings just like Sarah Arnold did in Monroe.”   That was an evening I will always remember.

For years it was a general consensus that not many people in Monroe were married or buried without the musical offerings of either one or a combination of these four individuals.  I know that there are still many left in Monroe who can attest to the beautiful music that was created by these musical duos.   From a personal perspective, Miss Jennie played at funeral services for many of my family members accompanying Mr. Dennie as he sang hymns with his beautiful voice, much of the time with no sheet music in sight.  A unique thing about Mr. Dennie was that in normal conversation with him, he had a slight stutter.  But when he opened his mouth in song, all evidence of the stutter was gone.  The last family funeral Miss Jennie played for was my father, who died in 1970.  At the conclusion of the service, one of my father’s business associates from Social Circle came up to me and said, “If the music in Heaven is as sweet as what Mrs. Launius played today, I am certainly looking forward to going there.”  Those comments were a great comfort to me on that sad day.  I felt my father’s presence somewhere, close by, listening.  I know he was happy with such a wonderful musical sendoff.