Nashville much more than country music

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Last weekend, I was in Tennessee to take part in an induction ceremony for the newest chapter of the Les Gemmes Inc. in Nashville, Tenn.

Four of us from the Suffolk chapter – Audrey Knight, president; Lemma Cobb, financial secretary; Gracie Eure, secretary; and yours truly, club reporter – teamed up with at least four members each from the Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Norfolk chapters. A few Phantoms, the male club associated with the Les Gemmes, also made the trip.

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We left Suffolk at 1:30 a.m. Friday under the safe driving of Brian Harris, who works for Eddie’s Bus Service. We pulled into Nashville around 12:30 p.m. The lengthy bus trip was broken up with two 15-minute rest stops and an hour-and-a-half breakfast stop.

We lodged at the Embassy Suites Motel where Les Gemmes activities were held. On Friday night,members registered and attended hospitality night events. On both Saturday and Sunday, each of us was treated to a complete full breakfast, compliments of the motel.

Right after breakfast Saturday, around 9:30 a.m., we left to tour the city by bus.

Gloria McKissack, a member of the Nashville chapter, led the tour. We toured many sites, including Tennessee State University, which was established in 1912; Fisk University, which convened its first class on Jan.

9, 1866; Pearl High School, the city’s first school for blacks; Sentara Park, which included a structure called the Parthenon Building (an exact replica of a building in Greece); the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC); and the Tennessee Tribune.

Margaret McClain, a member of the Nashville chapter, is president and CEO of the OIC. The business – which takes as its slogan, &uot;We Help Others Help Themselves,&uot; – offers a variety of potentially life-altering training, job placement, support, and hope to participants whose employment prospects are bleak. The organization works to help break the city of dependency by providing adults with GED preparation, basic computer courses, parenting skills, money management workshops and job search training. After touring that building, we witnessed the dedication of a room to our organization.

Rosetta Miller-Perry, another Nashville member, is the second black female publisher in

Nashville. She has published the Tennessee Tribune for 14 years. She has a team of 10 freelance writers and two photographers working for her.

One of the photographers, Roko Tonton, was nice enough to take club members’ cameras and take group pictures for us. Thanks, Roko! We’re also going to be profiled in an article in a Nashville magazine.

After touring Perry’s newspaper, we were treated to lunch at the Tribune and entertained by 83-year-old Matthew

Kennedy. A pianist, Kennedy is starting a recording career with a debut CD of classical piano music featuring songs that have endured the test of time.

Kennedy has composed two spirituals, &uot;Every Time I Feel The Spirit&uot; and &uot;Steal Away,&uot; which were published by Church Street Music, a subsidy of the Life Way Christian label. His schedule is packed with musical guest appearances.

Promptly at 7 p.m. in an adjoining room to the Kentucky Ballroom, the induction ceremony began. About 150 Les Gemmes, members only, representing 20 chapters statewide attended the ceremony. The new chapter wore white dresses; members from other chapters wore black. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

After the ceremony, the Phantoms were allowed to join us in an African buffet banquet feast in the ballroom and each chapter presented the incoming chapter with a gift. As we left the room we also received gifts from the new Tennessee chapter.

Members of that chapter are Dr. Evelyn Fancher, president; Mary Patrick, vice president; Debbie Hirsch, secretary; Ann Haynes, treasurer; Edwina Hefner, chapter representative and wife of James Hefner, the president of Tennessee State University; Attorney Joyce Ball; Lula Brooks; Leslie Drummond; Margaret McClain; Gloria McKissack; Dr. Rosetta Perry; Virginia Potts; Hortense Price-Jones; Dr. Valencia Price; and Attorney Joy Sims.

Most people think that Nashville, Tenn., only holds a country music legacy but this is not entirely true. According to our tour guide, the city also has a rich black history.

One of the best things that I could have done to make my life complete was to join Les Gemmes Inc. in 1999. Since that time I have made over 200 new friends, visited over eight states and I’m still counting friends and states. The Suffolk Chapter of Les Gemmes Inc. is always on the move. The group will sponsor an auction at the Sickle Cell Banquet on March 5 at the Virginia National Guard Armory on Godwin Boulevard.

Evelyn Wall is a reporter for the News-Herald. She can be reached at 934-9615, or via e-mail at