All of Ennis mourns the passing of Anna Lee Davis, long time music educator and pioneer of the music program of Ennis ISD.
Davis, 93, passed away at the Ennis Regional Medical Center Monday, March 21, 2011.
Anna Lee Cobb was born in the west Texas hamlet of Bradshaw, March 23, 1917, to Samuel Tatum Cobb and Bertha May Moseley Cobb.
“About three days after she was born, her mother died, and so she was raised by a paternal aunt, Bernice Cobb Hickman and her husband, Elisha, in Winters, near Abilene,” said Davis’ son John Cable (Fink)
Anna Lee’s aunt encouraged her musical talents and arranged for piano lessons. By the age of 12, she was playing for local church services and during her last two years of high school, she was studying piano with Irl Allison, then Dean of Music at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and founder of the National Guild of Piano Teachers and later the founder of the Van Clliburn International Competition.
After graduating from Winters High School as valedictorian at age 16, Anna Lee enrolled in Baylor University in Waco on a scholarship, studying piano under Roxy Grove and received a Bachelor of Music in 1937. After spending a summer doing graduate study at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, she returned to Waco and taught in the music department at her alma mater. She later returned home and taught school in Winters and Coleman.
In December 1939, she married fellow music graduate from Baylor, Fred W. Fink Jr. who served in Army military bands during World War II while Anna Lee played for churches and USO shows and other social events near Luling.
In 1942-43 she was head of the music department at the Arkansas State School for the Blind in Little Rock; From 1943-45, she was head of the Fine Arts Department at San Marcos Baptist Academy. When the war ended, the couple attended graduate school, each receiving M.A. In music at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Anna receiving her masters in piano performance.
After the couple divorced, Anna, with her two sons, John and Bill, moved to Ennis in 1955 to teach music in the public schools where she founded the music and choral programs for EISD. She directed large and small choral groups both at Ennis High School and before desegregation, she taught at Carver High School. She played piano for Sunday services in a variety of local and nearby churches.
“Whenever people asked me what denomination I belonged to, I just told them it was wherever my mother was playing the piano,” Cable said with a laugh.
Davis also played for funeral services at Keever Mortuary Chapel for over 50 years. Robert Brazier, who served as a music instructor in the EISD, and for 37 years, was director of music at Anthony Drive Baptist Church, noted his long time association with the music pioneer.
“Anna Lee was like a second mom to me,” said Brazier. “For months, she begged me to hurry up and retire so I could take her place here. I admired her for her very colorful, interesting life. In fact, she even played briefly for Glenn Miller – I could just sit and listen to her stories and just be mesmerized.”
In December 1961, Anna Lee married long-time acquaintance A.A. “Rue” Davis, who also had two boys, Richard and Albert Davis. The Davises made their home in Ennis.
She retired from Ennis in 1970 and soon began teaching younger children in Palmer, and once she retired from that, she taught piano and organ to both children and adults as well as weddings, funerals and a myriad of other social events and holiday programs.
A 1966 graduate of Ennis High School Janice Hefner recalls the influence Davis had in her life, noting that she served as a substitute for her in Palmer.
“One thing I loved about her was that she always seemed to know me,” Hefner said. “I know she had hundreds of students and although I was never in choir she always spoke to me as if she knew exactly who I was. Whether she really did or not, she had that gift of making you feel special.”
Another Ennis alumni, Janice Goodwin Wright noted that Davis was her favorite music teacher.
“I had her in grade school. When Gary and I got married in 1994, she composed some songs for me on a tape and gave it to me to play at our wedding,” Wright said. “I will always remember that. She was such a lovely lady and so talented.”
Former EHS student Jane Grant Hoffman weighed in on her thoughts and memories of the legendary music teacher.
“I had her in elementary and high school. (I remember singing) in the musical ‘Oklahoma’ in the seventh grade,” Hoffman said. “I sang “The Surrey Song” with Rodney McLeod. Anna Lee was such a great teacher, and was always excited to see you and wanted to know what was new with you – and she could play anything on the piano or organ. She was a good friend of my mother’s and they taught together for many years. Her talent will be greatly missed.”
Memories continued to pour in from former students, including Ennis native James Madewell.
“I had her from the fourth through the seventh grade – one of my fondest memories of going to her music classes during junior high was when we sang the songs of the seasons – Halloween – Thanks giving – ‘over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house we go’ – and especially Christmas songs,” Madewell said, noting that his earliest memories of love songs were songs she taught her classes. “We went to class one day and she taught us the song ‘Tammy’ which Debbie Reynolds sang in the movie. I didn’t know it was a love song in the fourth grade – I didn’t even know what a love song was.
Madewell was at home later that evening singing the song ‘Tammy’ and was asked by his father where he heard that song.
“I told him Mrs. (Davis) taught it to us in music at school,” Madewell said. “He told my mother, ‘Lorena, did you know that they are teaching our kids love songs at school?’”
Madewell said he still laughs today when he looks back on that memory.
“I have a CD of hers that she signed to my husband Larry,” said Janet Sublett Perdue. “It’s called Melodies – she began playing piano in 1922, and her talent and passion for music has taken her from the halls of the Juilliard School of Music, to USO Dance Bands during World War II, to the classrooms and churches of Ennis.”
Karen Littleton Jones, music teacher at Dorie Miller Intermediate School, recalled the impact Davis made on her life.
“I have so many wonderful memories of Mrs. Davis,” Jones said. “ She was my music teacher from grade school all the way through high school, and was the main inspiration for my becoming a music teacher. She had this marvelous way of making you believe you could do whatever she asked of you.”
A number of Davis’ students all agree she had an innate ability to influence them to love music.
“I loved Ms. Davis. I only had her for junior high choir and then she resigned but she encouraged me so much,” said 1974 EHS graduate Linda Colkin Gauntt. “She made everyone want to be in choir.”
In praising his mother, Cable, with a broken voice, shared one final thought.
“She had far more children than just the four boys she raised because she took a special interest in all the hundreds of students she had through the years. Whether she was playing a Bach cantata, or his Fugue in E minor, she was, in every sense of the word, a brilliant musician,” he said. “I want people to remember her, not just as the lady that played ‘Moon River’ at the Lions Club, but for her incredible giftedness.”
Anna Lee’s husband Rue predeceased her, as did Al Davis. She is survived by two half-sisters, Bernice Lee of Dallas and Olga May Hatch of San Antonio; her sons Bill Fink, John Cable, and Dick Davis; her grandchildren Will Fink, Collin Cable, Blair and Blake Davis, Kourtny Garrett, Bonner Penn, Matthew Cooper; and hundreds of piano and vocal students, who were all her children.
Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 9, 2011 in the J.E. Keever Mortuary Chapel.
Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or 469-517-1450.