Written in Celebration of Mrs. Crenshaw’s 90th Birthday
by Ken Krause
Long time Union activist and Executive Board member Marjorie Crenshaw, known respectfully by all of her many friends and associates as Mrs. Crenshaw, turns 90 years of age on May 31. To say that Mrs. Crenshaw has been around the block a few times would be an understatement of the highest order. Mrs. Crenshaw has been an active member of the Fort Worth community all of her life and an active member of the Musicians Union for many years, having first joined Fort Worth Local 72, well before its merger with Dallas Local 147. She was already on the Local 72 Executive Board and remained so since the merger to this day.
Mrs. Crenshaw was born in Marshall, Texas and moved to Fort Worth with her family at the age of 2, where she has lived ever since. As a youngster her father enrolled her in Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School, “because he wanted me to learn discipline and receive a good education,” says Mrs. Crenshaw. She attended James E. Guinn Junior High and graduated from I.M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth. From there, Mrs. Crenshaw attended Wylie College in Marshall, TX and Fisk University (Nashville) where she obtained a degree in Music. Mrs. Crenshaw returned home and earned her Master of Music degree from North Texas State University, in Denton.
Mrs. Crenshaw grew up learning to play the piano and later the organ. “In my family everyone played an instrument. My father, who played the violin, saw to it that I took lessons learning how to read music and play the classics, just as he had done. My mother was a pianist. I eventually played piano and organ in church as a member of the Methodist Church,” says Mrs. Crenshaw. After traveling with her mother to New Orleans one year for Mardi Gras, Mrs. Crenshaw says she fell in love with jazz. “I never thought of myself as a true jazz musician because I wanted to see the notes, but then someone in church came up and told me that what I was playing was jazz. I just learned how to feel it.”
Growing up in the 1940’s she had the opportunity to hear many of the world’s great jazz musicians when they traveled to Fort Worth to perform, including Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald. As a young person Mrs. Crenshaw had the opportunity to get to know some of these great musicians as people. “They would stay in people’s homes (in her neighborhood) because there was no other place to stay,” says Mrs. Crenshaw. Due to abusive treatment and the blatant racism they experienced many African American musicians stopped coming to the south to perform. “A whole generation in the south was lost to this great art form of jazz, because they were no longer exposed to the live performances of these great musicians,” according to Mrs. Crenshaw.
Mrs. Crenshaw taught elementary music in the Fort Worth public schools for 32 years. She made sure that her students were exposed to all forms of music, including jazz. Often times she wondered if what she was teaching was having any lasting impact on her students, especially if they gave the impression of being disinterested. But, she has come to realize down through the years, when she would see former students attending various musical performances and concerts as adults and by the gratitude that they later showed to her for the musical appreciation that she helped instill in them, that her teaching really did make a big difference in the lives of her students. At least two of her former students went on to have professional careers in music, while still others became part time musicians alongside a full-time chosen career away from music.
Mrs. Crenshaw became active within the Musicians’ Union upon the insistence of former Local 72-147 President and current AFM President Ray Hair. She convinced a good many former union members to return to the AFM and countless other first time members to join. “When Ray Hair became President I was able to convince many of my colleagues that as a Union member they would get paid and be represented in the work place,” says Mrs. Crenshaw. “I would tell them that they should be a member of a professional organization that represents musicians, just like doctors were often times a member of the AMA. In today’s Union it is still a fight for better wages, but being a member of the Union gives you a chance (to succeed in that fight).”
Still going strong, Mrs. Crenshaw is a member of Delta Sigma Beta, the Texas Retired Teachers Association, Saint Andrews Methodist Church (Fort Worth), and she is a former member of the Fort Worth Opera Guild. Here’s to you Mrs. Crenshaw, and Happy Birthday!