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Helen Turner-Thompson

Minister of music, pianist and educator, Helen Turner-Thompson was born on January 7, 1931. Turner-Thompson has lived most of her life in Cleveland, Ohio. A product of the Cleveland Public Schools, she studied piano privately beginning in elementary school and held a number of professional jobs before graduating from Cleveland's Central High School. She also completed additional studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Turner-Thompson has worked with the choirs of numerous local churches, including Antioch Baptist Church, Mount Zion Congregational Church, Euclid Avenue Congregational Church and Shiloh Baptist Church. Nationally, she has worked with other professional musicians in the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, the Gospel Music Workshop of America and the Center for Black Music Research. Turner-Thompson, who currently resides in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, also teaches classical piano to area children and is a much sought-after clinician and workshop leader.

Turner-Thompson is the recipient of numerous honors and awards including the Gospel Pioneer Award, December 2006; the Inspirational Voices of Peace Founders Harp Award, September 2007; was honored by the Gospel Music Historical Society; the TallerWorks at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum; the Women’s Clergy of Greater Cleveland; the Karamu Theatre and was named a Master Artist for the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program of the Ohio Arts Council, working with individuals interested in studying the history and performance practices of the gospel music that developed during the first half of the twentieth century.

Accession Number

A2004.029

Sex

Female

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

3/19/2004

Last Name

Turner-Thompson

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Rawlings Junior High School

Central High School

Cleveland Institute of Music

Cleveland Central High School

Speakers Bureau

Yes

Archival Photo 2
Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Helen

Birth City, State, Country

Cleveland

HM ID

THO05

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - 0 - $500

Favorite Season

Fall, Winter

State

Ohio

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

If it's the Lord's will.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Birth Date

1/7/1931

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Cleveland

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Greens, Yams (Candied), Fruit, Meat

Short Description

Gospel musician and piano instructor Helen Turner-Thompson (1931 - ) worked with the choirs of numerous churches in the Cleveland, Ohio area, including Antioch Baptist Church, Mount Zion Congregational Church, Euclid Avenue Congregational Church and Shiloh Baptist Church. Nationally, she worked with other professional musicians in the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, the Gospel Music Workshop of America and the Center for Black Music Research.

Employment

Cleveland Job Corps

Shiloh Baptist Church

Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Helen Turner-Thompson interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Helen Turner-Thompson explains her nickname 'Mother'

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Helen Turner-Thompson's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Helen Turner-Thompson discusses her adoption

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Helen Turner-Thompson remembers her adopted mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Helen Turner-Thompson talks about her adopted mother's music shop

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Helen Turner-Thompson recalls her childhood neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Helen Turner-Thompson speaks about her sister

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Helen Turner-Thompson talks about her grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Helen Turner-Thompson explains African American entrepreneurship in Cleveland

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Helen Turner-Thompson discusses her early musical career

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Helen Turner-Thompson remembers influential music teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Helen Turner-Thompson discusses Thomas Dorsey and the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Helen Turner-Thompson explains the goal of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Helen Turner-Thompson remembers major players of the Chicago and Cleveland gospel music communities

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Helen Turner-Thompson details her musical education

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Helen Turner-Thompson talks about her early experiences as a gospel musician

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Helen Turner-Thompson recalls gospel radio broadcasts by Wings Over Jordan

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Helen Turner-Thompson talks about the importance of improvisation in gospel music

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Helen Turner-Thompson explains how 'Amazing Grace' was accepted as a gospel song

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Helen Turner-Thompson explains the adaptability of 'Amazing Grace'

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Helen Turner-Thompson talks about changes in gospel music that start in the 1930s

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Helen Turner-Thompson discusses how gospel music evolved in the 1940s

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Helen Turner-Thompson recalls James Cleveland's career and influence

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Helen Turner-Thompson compares the Thomas Dorsey and James Cleveland workshops

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Helen Turner-Thompson talks about changes in gospel music's insturmentation

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Helen Turner-Thompson's contrasts tradititional and contemporary styles of gospel music

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Helen Turner-Thompson details her various duties in the community

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Helen Turner-Thompson talks about the the role of women in church hierarchy

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Helen Turner-Thompson discusses her courtship and marriage

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Helen Turner-Thompson remembers continuing her music as a military wife

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Helen Turner-Thompson lists her children and grandchildren

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Helen Turner-Thompson talks about being a military wife

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Helen Turner-Thompson talks about various jobs she held

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Helen Turner-Thompson recalls being a single parent during the 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Helen Turner-Thompson discusses the church's opinions of the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Helen Turner-Thompson explains living in a "school of learning"

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Helen Turner-Thompson remembers Cleveland's participation in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Helen Turner-Thompson discusses the underground economy in Cleveland

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Helen Turner-Thompson explains ways arts attracted youth to the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Helen Turner-Thompson talks about African American women writers' successes

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Helen Turner-Thompson discusses current female gospel musicians

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Helen Turner-Thompson shares her concerns about the future of gospel music

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Helen Turner-Thompson plays piano and sings a short medley of gospel tunes

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson and her aunt, Viola Tate, Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson's late husband, Donald Thompson, Sr.

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson's late husband, Donald Thompson, Sr., receiving a military certificate

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson's sister, Frances Crawford's graduation photo from Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Photo - Baby photo of Helen Turner-Thompson's daughter, Yvonne Thompson-Moore

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Photo - Baby photo of Helen Turner-Thompson's son, Donald Thompson, Jr., 1953

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson pictured on the sheet music of, 'There Is A Place On The Battlefield For Me', Cleveland, Ohio, ca. 1947

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson with her children

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson with her family

Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson with gospel choir members, Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson leading a gospel music workshop at Fairmount Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 16 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson receiving an award at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, January, 2002

Tape: 5 Story: 17 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson after receiving an award at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, January, 2002

Tape: 5 Story: 18 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson on a visit to Jerusalem, Israel

Tape: 5 Story: 19 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson with Tony Menard and the music conductor at Antioch Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio, 1993

Tape: 5 Story: 20 - Photo - Helen Turner-Thompson in the Antioch Chorus at Antioch Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$1

DAStory

4$11

DATitle
Helen Turner-Thompson plays piano and sings a short medley of gospel tunes
Helen Turner-Thompson discusses her early musical career
Transcript
Okay, on that note, I'm gonna ask if you could play and sing for us some of that traditional gospel music that's made you a legend in this city [Cleveland, Ohio]. Would you do that?$$Well, let me see, is this cord long enough?$$Oh, no, we'll pause and maybe switch things around a little.$$(Tape interrruption).$$One number that really speaks to Kenneth Morris, a verse and a chorus, ' [My God is Real] Yes, God is Real'. I'm not gonna sing it though. You asked me to sing it. Then I have to change the key if I'm gonna sing it. That's another thing that put gospel musicians over. If you can transpose and play in any key, you can make it. (Singing) "There are some things"--anybody sing it with me?--"I may not know, There are some places, I can't go; But I am sure, Of this one thing; That God is real, for I can feel Him deep within. Oh, yes, God is real, He's real in my soul; Yes, God is real, For He has watched and made me whole. His love for me, Is like pure gold; Yes, God is real, for I can feel Him in my soul." And then the one that [Dr. Thomas A.] Dorsey wrote on ['The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow']--(Singing) "The Lord will make a way somehow, when beneath the cross I bow, He will take away the sorrow, let Him have your burdens now; When your load gets down so heavy the weight is sure to short upon my brow, There's a sweet relief, There's a sweet relief, There's a sweet relief in knowing the Lord will make a way somehow." Now, I'm gonna do my mother's song. She wrote this song, when she started walking again. Mother [Henrietta Coleman] did not walk from 1940, no, '43 [1943] to '47 [1947]. She had a nervous breakdown 'cause she worked too hard. So when she started working again, she wrote this song ['There Is A Place On The Battlefield For Me']. (Singing) "There is a place on the battlefield for me; There's a place on the battlefield for me; I can hear Jesus' voice sweetly saying, Stand up for right and behold the victory. On the battlefield Lord Jesus Christ was wounded; There He shed blood and died in agony; Now with joy, I'm fighting sin for my salvation, For His life means eternal life for me. I love to fight for my Christ, I want to die fully right, Then I'll see my savior's face in peace; So I'll keep marching along, Joyfully singing my song; There's a place on the battlefield for me."$$(Applause)$I'm wondering since you're now a full-time musician, clinician, sacred music--,$$Yes.$$--is all that I've ever heard you perform, but hearing all those different sounds growing up, were you ever torn between the sacred and secular, or were you pretty much focused on what you wanted to do as a young person?$$When I was in my teens, and I was attending, I think Rawlings Junior High [Cleveland, Ohio], we had a band in the school. And there were about six of us--little jazz band. And the teacher liked us. I think his name was Carter, yes. And he would take us out to do little gigs. We didn't call them gigs then, but that's what they say now. We had a saxophonist, trombone, baritone sax, bass violin, drums, and I was on the piano. And we would play at different places like Crile [General] Hospital [Cleveland, Ohio] and we'd go downtown, and I was rather enjoying it, thinking that I might be a second Hazel Scott. But my mother [Henrietta Coleman] put an end to that 'cause she (laughs), she said, there will be no jazz growing up in (laughs), in that house. But I, I enjoyed playing. I could play the jazz as the person did it. Two of my favorite numbers was 'After Hours' by Erskine Hawkins and 'Flying Home' by Lionel Hampton. Now, I could play those two. And I did like 'Begin the Beguine', and I can't think of the fellow who--oh, yes, I had a little repertoire of (laughs) of jazz.$$Okay, okay, now, when is this then that your mother is helping you decide that you're only gonna be a gospel musician? About how old were you then?$$I think I was, I was around, I was still in my teens.$$Oh, okay.$$And it happened one night we went to Crile Hospital on the West Side, you know, to entertain the fellows [World War II veterans]. Some of them were bedridden and they had their legs, you know, you know, amputated or all of this. And we thought we'd make them feel good, you know, by going out there. So I told mother [Henrietta Coleman] the [Rawlings Junior High] Glee Club had to sing somewhere, and, and she said, "Okay." This was not true. But I had to use that to get out of the house (laughs). And little did I know that my mother, being confined to the bed, she had a keen sense of discernment of the spirit, which is one of the fruits of the spirit. Now, she could tell what I was up to even just by sitting on that bed. And whether I was at home or not, someone would bring her the--"I saw Helen so and so." "Did you know Helen was so and so?" And, you know, so I really had to, to--you know, I had to come up in the straight narrow. Well, mother was concerned about this Glee Club. So she sent my grandmother [Martha Coleman] out in a car with someone and drove all the way out to York Road [Cleveland, Ohio]. And I was just whipping it on down on the piano. I was getting down, or at least I thought was (laughs). And I looked up in the door, and there stood my grandmother. And I think I could have been bought for a dime (laughs). I couldn't play, everything went out of me. I had no more--I, I was just like a person was, they saw something, and they had come to a stop, and, you know, it startled them. And then here I was. I can't believe this. This is my mother standing here, and all the fellows in casts, you know, and their toes just going, you know. And mother said, "Aren't you shamed, playing that jazz, and those men are laying up there with half of their torso and everything off." And I said, "But Mother, they want to be entertained." "Well, you're not gonna entertain them anymore like that." So that put an end to my jazz career.