Lucille M. "Doonie" Brooks, a former longtime city public schools music teacher and a renowned church organist and choir director, died Oct. 9 at her daughter's Catonsville home of congestive heart failure. She was 102.
"I call her the Music Matriarch of Baltimore, and she has been invaluable to me in every way since I first met her in the early 1990s," said Marco Merrick, director of the Community Concert Choir of Baltimore. "She was one of the great inspirations of my life."
"I would say that Lucille Brooks is one of the most profound church organists I have ever known," said William H. Sydnor, the organist at Florida Avenue Baptist Church in Washington and a former student of Mrs. Brooks'. "She was able to connect musically with anything, and that was one of her great abilities. She was extremely versatile."
The daughter of Samuel Austin, a longshoreman, and Theresa Austin, a housekeeper, Lucille Elizabeth Austin was born and raised in East Baltimore.
Mrs. Brooks' interest in music began when she was 7 and she asked her family if she could take piano lessons, but because of the racial segregation at the time, she could not, family members said.
"When she was 9 or 10, Charlie Dungee would come to East Baltimore from the west side and give her piano lessons. I think they cost a dollar," said her daughter, Lucille Perry of Catonsville, who retired from Northeast Middle School, where she had been music department chair.
Mrs. Brooks was a youngster when the pastor of her church, Waters Avenue African Methodist Episcopal Church, made her the organist for the junior choir.
By the time she matriculated at Frederick Douglass High School, she was an accomplished pianist. She continued her musical studies with W. Llewellyn Wilson, who headed the school's music department and counted fuuture jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway among his students.
After graduating from Douglass in 1930, she attended New York University for a year before returning to Baltimore, where she graduated from Cortez Peters Business School on Eutaw Place.
In the early 1930s, she married Lloyd Marcus, a tailor who had his own business, where she worked as a seamstress. The marriage ended in divorce. She was married in the early 1960s to Sidney Brooks, a draftsman who died in the mid-1980s.
After she earned a bachelor's degree in music in 1950 from what was then Morgan State College, she began teaching at then-Dunbar Junior/Senior High School.
"I loved Dunbar so much that I started the first little boys choir," Mrs. Brooks told The Baltimore Sun in a 2012 interview. "I didn't have to worry about them coming to school; they got there at 7 in the morning. My students loved me, and I loved them."
One of her students at Dunbar was Audrey C. McCallum, who became the first African-American to attend and graduate from the Peabody Preparatory School.
"She was my first general music teacher at Dunbar in 1950. She was a very fine pianist and I think some of that rubbed off on me. She was my mentor and let me play for her boys choir," said Mrs. McCallum, who was the first black music teacher at Western High School, where she also served as department chair, retiring in 1990.
"As a teacher, we learned so much from her about musicians, composers and we sang a lot of songs. She was a fabulous teacher with a warm personality. She was terrific. Just magnificent," recalled Mrs. McCallum.
"My class loved her because she was polite, had a good sense of humor, made us feel welcome and reached out to us," said Mrs. McCallum, who taught music at Morgan State University from 1990 to 2011, when she retired a second time.
Mr. Sydnor was 9 when he began studying organ in 1960 with Mrs. Brooks at Union Baptist Church.
"She taught me privately, and she was much softer than my previous teacher," said Mr. Sydnor, who will play the organ at Mrs. Brooks' service. "If I got a little slow, she was very patient."
While teaching at Houston-Woods Junior/Senior High School, Mrs. Brooks was named Teacher of the Year by the Afro-American newspaper.
In 1971, she joined the faculty of the newly built Lake Clifton High School, where she started a choir that grew to 203 voices and performed at various venues, including WMAR-TV, WBAL-TV, City Hall and the War Memorial Plaza.
In 1976, Mrs. Brooks returned to Morgan, where she earned a master's degree in music.
Mrs. Brooks was a much-in-demand church organist and played at numerous churches across the city.
After retiring from Lake Clifton in 1986, she taught briefly at what is now Coppin State University and continued giving private lessons until 2011.
"I had always heard all of these stories about Lucille Brooks, and when I finally met her, if someone had give me a million dollars I could not have been more thrilled," said Mr. Merrick. "She has always been so encouraging and supportive of me."
When Mr. Merrick was dismissed as director of music at a Baltimore church, Mrs. Brooks comforted him.
The Morning Sun Newsletter
Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.
"What Lucille Brooks was to me at that moment was a cushion. She told me this was what I was supposed to do professionally," he said. "She was an angel in human disguise."
Mrs. Brooks, a longtime Ashburton resident who had lived in Catonsville for the last 30 years, continued to be active.
"When a reporter asked if she still played the piano at age 101, her eyes lit up, she rose to her feet, sauntered over to the piano in her dining room and beautifully played a rendition, unbeknownst to her, of one of the reporter's all-time favorites, 'Lift Every Voice and Sing,' " said her niece, Rhonda Alexander of Pikesville.
A choral music celebration of Mrs. Brooks' life will begin at 10 a.m. Thursday at Waters Avenue African Methodist Episcopal Church, 417 N. Aisquith St., which will be followed at 11 a.m. by funeral services.
In addition to her daughter and niece, she is survived by three grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.