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Monday, October 12, 2009

Susie DeShazo and the DeShazo College of Music

Posted By on Mon, Oct 12, 2009 at 3:03 PM

When I was a little Vance, I was forced to take piano lessons from the cruel woman shown here, and whenever I hit the wrong note, she would SLAM the piano lid down on my fingers, until I cried and cried and ...

Wait, I have the wrong person. That dreadful experience happened when I was taking trombone lessons. And the teacher didn't use a piano lid, he used a sledge hammer. And now he is in prison.

So just let me start over. The woman pictured here was Susie DeShazo, one of the best and most talented piano teachers this city ever had. Countless musicians were influenced by her music school, which she opened in 1925 with her sister, Jenny, at 1264 Linden, just across the street from Central High School.

Miss Susie, as everyone called her, was the youngest in the family and probably the most musically gifted. An old Memphis Press-Scimitar article noted that she was "born with that sense of absolute pitch, which enabled her to recognize and produce any tone correctly."

Just as I myself was able to do on my harmonica!

A talented violinist at a very early age, she turned to the piano when she "rebelled against the squeaky sounds produced on the violin by beginners" and very quickly became "one of the South's most outstanding artists." One reviewer commented that "she possesses a superb technique. Her playing is characterized by great tonal beauty and a warmth of style that make her programs never-to-be-forgotten events."

Much like my harmonica and oboe recitals at the Lauderdale Mansion!

Susie attended St. Mary's School for Girls and by the age of 14 was presenting a series of concerts in Boulder, Colorado, where she so impressed a music professor from Northwestern University that he arranged for her to receive that school's first scholarship in music — at the age of 16!

After graduating from Northwestern, the young woman was the featured soloist with symphonies throughout the United States and then studied and performed in Europe. In Paris, so the story goes, she wanted one of her concerts reviewed, but the lazy reporter who covered such things claimed he was far too busy that evening. So she marched to the newspaper office and told him, "We helped you win the war. Now you come to my concert." And so he did.

Susie stayed in Europe for almost two years before returning to Memphis to open the DeShazo College of Music on Linden, in a building designed by her father. The college employed 12 teachers and attracted hundreds of students over the years. In the 1927, the talented family also formed the DeShazo Pianists Circle and gave private recitals in members' homes around Memphis.

When Jenny died in 1964, the school closed. Like far too many places mentioned in this column, the site is now a parking lot. But Miss Susie continued to teach from her home in East Memphis. A 1977 Commercial Appeal article observed, "It was unanimously and affectionately conceded that the person who has most influenced the lives of Memphis pianists in the last half-century has been Miss Susie DeShazo."

Susie DeShazo died in 1981. One of her former students, Mrs. Herbert Glenn Jr., once told me, "I can remember many, many happy times with Miss Susie and Miss Jenny. Susie, especially, was not only a very good teacher, but she was someone you could really relate to. She was someone who became your friend."

Okay, in that regard, Miss Susie was NOT like any member of the Lauderdales.


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