Delores Amason

Delores Amason is not only a gifted pianist and singer; the Tillery native is also an unofficial regional historian with a deep understanding of the wider significance of the place she calls home. "My father was a sharecropper and a tenant farmer in this area. He grew up and worked on the Tillery Plantation, and at the time of the resettlement, Daddy got an opportunity to buy a 40-acre farm, and he did."

While the cultural values within the largely African American community of Tillery were--and continue to be--traditional, Amason explains that her forbears were very aware of life beyond the bounds of Tillery, and worked to expose their younger generations to the world outside the tobacco fields. "Our parents and grandparents always strived to get us exposed to other things," she explains. "Things beyond Tillery. And I think the positive thing about that is it made us love Tillery even more, even though there were so many things we didn't have. We were always urged, and pushed, and prodded, and taken to activities--things outside of the Tillery community."

As a child, Amason worked alongside her parents, farming cotton, peanuts, corn, tobacco, and soybeans. It was during this time that she also began to toy with a piano that her family had inherited from her grandmother. Amason remembers, "For a lack of anything else to do, I used to play with it, and that's where I picked up little things I do--on that old piano."

After receiving informal lessons from the mother of a friend who happened to be a music teacher, Amason began playing regularly in church, and singing harmony with friends from school.

Me and two other girls would sit on the school bus on the way home--it was a long ride home back then--and we'd sing and harmonize. Then, when we got to a piano, we'd pick it out and the three of us sang. My friend Van and I became known as the Gospelettes, and we started singing in different churches; we even had a television debut on a show out of Greenville called the Sammy Bland Show.

Following her graduation from North Carolina Central, Amason moved with her husband to the Washington, DC, area. She returned to Tillery ten years later, working as a teacher until she retired. "It was my passion," she says of her years in the classroom. "I loved it."

Throughout, Amason played piano at her home church of Tillery Chapel. While her breadth of musical knowledge is wide, she is most drawn to the traditional hymns that appear in the National Baptist Hymn Book. "A lot of times in church, we sing something and everybody says, 'Where'd that song come from?' And it comes right out of that hymn book," she says. "I guarantee you that nine out of ten of these hymnals that have been used, the pages will fall open to certain songs, because we sing those same songs over and over again."

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