Monday, January 14, 2008

Influential Memphis Educator And Last Living Memphian To Have Played With Jazz Great Jimmie Lunceford Dies...

First Annual Jimmie Lunceford Legacy Award Honoree, Legendary Memphis Educator And Friend of Tha Artivist Ms. Kathryn Perry Thomas Makes Transition At 92 Years Young…


Katheryn Perry Thomas
1915-2008
Tha Artivist Writes:
Last Friday afternoon (Jan. 11, 2008) I learned that one of my newest friends I had met on my quest to restore the legacy of Jimmie Lunceford passed away…My good friend, the talented writer Preston Lauterbach, notified me of her passing by phone…Preston wrote the excellent article on Jimmie Lunceford for the Memphis Flyer back in the summer and Ms. Katheryn Perry Thomas was one of the stars interviewed…

I was a little surprised, but not too much...Ms. Katheryn Perry Thomas had been on my mind all that week and for the past several weeks for that matter…Something had been telling me to make that one last interview…We have tried on several occasions to make that happen, but something always came up…

Fortunately, I did have the pleasure of meeting Ms. Thomas in the flesh…I presented her with her Jimmie Lunceford Legacy Award at her home on Oct. 20, 2007, a sunny autumn Saturday afternoon…She was overjoyed that Jimmie was finally getting his due and I immediately knew we had a connection…

We talked for a little over four hours that afternoon…Topics of discussion ranged from Current Events, Education, Politics, History and of course Jimmie Lunceford…When she was a student at Manassas she would practice her classical piano while Jimmie rehearsed his high school band, the first of its kind in Memphis...She said Jimmie was always very encouraging of her musical pursuits…She also explained to me that she came from a very musically talented family and so she really took to what Lunceford was trying to do with the students…I do not doubt for one minute that Lunceford’s influence played a role in her becoming a classical piano teacher among other things…I gained so much insight and wisdom from this wonderful woman in those few hours…I believed when the great Duke Ellington wrote his famous “Sophisticated Lady” tune he had a woman like Ms. Kathryn Perry Thomas in mind…

She felt comfortable enough to show me pictures of her family…She was truly proud of her beautiful family and their strong roots…She also showed me pictures when she was a younger woman starting off in teaching…I was immediately entranced in her beautiful photos…She was very photogenic…She was truly a dime piece in every sense of the word...I told her unashamedly so that she had nice legs in her prime…She laughed a hearty and appreciative laugh and smiled…

But I must admit that Ms. Katheryn Perry Thomas was a true dime piece in every way not only physically in her youth but also spiritually, emotionally and intellectually as a true elder...A true Renaissance Woman of the highest order yet with the common touch of a true humanitarian, something that is earned and gained after having patience with others for a 50 year teaching career and nearly a century of living…Courtesy, wit, passion and love were her weapons of choice and persuasion…She has left an impression on me that I will never forget for as long as I live…

Fortunately I did record Ms. Thomas on several occasions when I was researching Lunceford for the 1st Annual Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival http://www.jimmieluncefordjam.blogspot.com …Her interviews will be used in the forthcoming Jimmie Lunceford Documentary…

The actual interviews are online and can be accessed by clicking on the following links:

Read Preston Lauterbach's Tribute To Ms. Katheryn Perry Thomas In The Memphis Flyer:
http://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/Content?oid=oid%3A38007

The following is a bio on Ms. Katheryn Perry Thomas that was included in her funeral program:

Eloise Katheryn Perry Thomas was born Jan. 19, 1915, in Memphis, Tennessee, to Andrew Jackson Perry, Sr., and LuRena Drain Perry.

Katheryn attended Memphis public schools and took piano lessons at a very early age. She graduated from Manassas High School and attended LeMoyne Owen College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. After college she taught in the elementary schools of northwest Mississippi and Memphis. Later, she returned to Manassas High School, where she taught Spanish and English for more than 42 years. She was deeply committed to Manassas students and the neighboring community that saw her as a model of virtue and leadership, Katheryn’s impact upon students is perhaps best expressed by Manassas students in the following tribute:

“The broad dimensions of her personal impact on the school and community have been fourfold. As a teacher, she has imparted knowledge and moral values. As a dreamer, she has espoused the highest ideals. As a devotee of the arts, she has spearheaded programs that have enhanced the cultural life of the Manassas community. And as a professional, she has evinced integrity and compassion. “Briefly stated, Mrs. Thomas is the epitome of a professional woman, who has ennobled the teaching profession and enriched many young lives. We believe she represents what John Keats had in mind when he wrote: ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever:/ Its loveliness increases; it will never/ Pass into nothingness.’”

Katheryn learned from her family the value of commitment and personal responsibility, and the importance of GOD, family and community. Many people from North Memphis and friends across the country like to recall Katheryn’s love for people and her devotion to the arts. She especially loved classical music and theater. She also enjoyed traveling to places such as Europe, the Middle East and South America. She was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and was twice president of her local chapter. She received numerous awards and certificates for community service, including a Key to the City of Memphis.

As a young child, Katheryn became a member of Coleman Chapel CME Church, where she later served as pianist and Director of the Youth Programs. Much later in life she became a faithful member of Calvary Episcopal Church.

Preceded in death by two sisters: Castella Barber and Evelyn J. Perry; four brothers: Andrew Jackson Perry, Jr., Albert, Oliver and William Perry, Katheryn is survived by a brother, Donald C. Perry; a sister-in-law, Pearl H. Perry; a brother-in-law, Leo Barber, Sr.; two nephews: Leo Barber, Jr. and Kevin Perry; and numerous other relatives. To celebrate her long and remarkable life, she leaves three beloved nieces: Cleo Barber, Andrea and Angela Perry; two devoted friends and caregivers: Jennifer Franklin and Michael Christian, and numerous other friends.

Those who knew and loved Katheryn will always remember her hearty laughter and infectious smile.

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