Noted Tulsa pianist and music teacher Norma Dennie Leshie dies at 79
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Friday, February 22, 2013
2/22/13 at 5:38 AM
Born into a well-known Tulsa musical family, Norma Dennie Leshie wasted no time in finding an audience of her own.
At just 6 years of age, she began serving Vernon Chapel AME Church as its Sunday school pianist.
Playing for the church's junior choir next, she took her seat as a teenager at the church organ, just like her mother before her.
Leshie - whose late father, Al Dennie, and late brother, George Dennie, are both in the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame - went on to become a heralded music educator and accomplished pianist.
But although in constant demand, it seemed, for weddings, funerals, cultural programs, and, later in life, the Summit Club, there was always one gig she enjoyed playing more than any, family members said.
"We have so many pictures of her sitting at her piano, like at Christmas, with all her grandchildren around her singing," Leshie's daughter Tasha Grider said.
Norma Jean Dennie Leshie, whose 40-year teaching career included music posts with Tulsa Public Schools and Holland Hall School, as well as in Chicago and Indianapolis, died Feb. 15 in Bryan, Texas, where she moved in 2005 to be close to family. She was 79.
A Delta Sigma Theta service is set for 6 p.m. Friday at Crown Hill Chapel, and a funeral is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Vernon Chapel AME Church.
At the insistence of their mother, Ruth, the organist and music director at their church, Leshie and her siblings - all 10 of them - learned to play the piano at an early age.
After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in 1951, Leshie got a degree in music education from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.
She later added a master's degree from Butler University, and her husband taught in Chicago and Indianapolis for several years.
In Indianapolis, she became the first black person to serve as the district music consultant, a role in which she developed a curriculum guide for the entire local school system.
After returning to Tulsa in the mid-1970s, Leshie taught music at Hawthorne Elementary School, later moving to Holland Hall and finally the Deborah Brown Community School.
Leshie also lived briefly in Nigeria, where she taught music at the University of Ibadan.
In Tulsa, she had been a music minister at several churches, including Wilkes-James AME Church, Church of the Restoration and First Baptist Church North Tulsa.
She taught music at the Greenwood Cultural Center's Summer Arts Program and performed for several years at the Summit Club.
Leshie kept playing until the end of her life. In Texas, she organized other residents in her retirement community into the "Singing with Norma" choir.
Her survivors include four children, Anthony Dotson, Frederick Dotson, Tasha Grider and Yolanda Sargeon; three siblings; and seven grandchildren.
Original Print Headline: Noted Tulsa pianist found her forte in teaching music
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Norma Dennie Leshie: She graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1951 and received a degree in music education from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.