Camille Nickerson

Camille Nickerson was an accomplished pianist, educator, and arranger. She is primarily known for her arrangements of traditional Creole folk songs for voice and piano.

Photo: Camille Nickerson, courtesy of the Library of Smithsonian Archives of American Art

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    Camille Nickerson, or, “The Louisiana Lady,” as she was called by her adoring audience, was a prolific African American performer, scholar, collector, and arranger of Creole folk songs. 

    Nickerson was born on March 30, 1888 in New Orleans. In her youth, she played in a variety of ladies’ youth orchestras and was highly regarded for her talent. Her father was a considerable musical influence on her, and was a talented pianist. Her father was a professor of music at Southern University in New Orleans, and the area was graced with prominent figures of early jazz (e.g. Jelly Roll Morton, Henry Kimball, etc.). Camille became highly regarded as a pianist, and she chose to further her musical education at Oberlin Conservatory.

    After completing her undergraduate degree at Oberlin, Camille attended Juilliard and Columbia Teachers college. She then returned to New Orleans and began teaching at the Nickerson School of Music, named for her father. While at this position, she hosted a variety of colorful concerts, with repertoire ranging from creole songs to classical sonatas. It was during these years that she earned the nickname “The Louisiana Lady,” and became well known for her antebellum and Creole aesthetic. She was also highly involved in raising awareness for the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM).

    It was also during her time back in Louisiana that Nickerson founded the B-Sharp Music Club with young students from the Nickerson School of Music. It was a club focused on music appreciation, and it later was integrated into the NANM.

    In 1926, Nickerson moved to Washington DC, and began a long and productive career as a professor of music at Howard University. She later served as president of NANM. During her tenure at Howard University, Nickerson received a fellowship which was to be directed forward the research of folk music and the collection of creole songs. Her first publication of Creole song arrangements came in 1942.

    It can be inferred that many of Nickerson’s unpublished arrangements, especially transcriptions of city sounds and street cries, have been lost. Even some of those popular in the mid 20th century have gone out of print or are otherwise increasingly difficult to find. One can still find a few single arrangements floating around, such as “Micheu Banjo” and “Lizette To Quitté La Plaine.” This is a considerable loss, as Nickerson compiled an impressive collection of  published and unpublished works (refer to Loyacano, pg. 62).

    Nickerson’s life work is a celebration of and an effort to preserve the Creole identity. She was able to reach a remarkably wide audience through her stimulating recitals and inextinguishable curiosity. 

    – Laurel Baker


    Collins, Peter. “Camille Nickerson – Know Louisiana.” 64 Parishes, 

    Loyacano, Shelby N., “Her People and Her History: How Camille Lucie Nickerson Inspired the Preservation of Creole Folk Music and Culture, 1888-1982″ (2019). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. 2624.

    McGinty, Doris E., and Camille Nickerson. “The Louisiana Lady.” The Black Perspective in Music, vol. 7, no. 1, 1979, pp. 81–94. JSTOR, Accessed 11 July 2020.

    Simpson, Anne Key. “Camille Lucie Nickerson, ‘The Louisiana Lady.’” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, vol. 36, no. 4, 1995, pp. 431–451. JSTOR, Accessed 11 July 2020.

    Related Information



    Sheet Music

    An Anthology of African and African Diaspora Songs - 60 Songs

    Composer(s): H. Leslie Adams, David N. Baker, Margaret Bonds, Charles Brown, H. T. Burleigh, Valerie Capers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Arthur Cunningham, Harriette Davison Watkins, William Dawson, Mark Fax, Bruce Forsythe, Antônio Carlos Gomes, Adolphus Hailstork, Jacqueline Hairston, Maud Cuney Hare, Jeraldine Herbison, Jonathan Holland, Sylvia Hollifield, Langston Hughes, J. Rosamond Johnson, Thomas Kerr, Lena McLin, Undine Smith Moore, Andre Myers, Camille Nickerson, Fred Onovwerosuoke, Eurydice Osterman, Robert Owens, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Zenobia Powell Perry, Rosephanye Powell, Florence Price, Dave Ragland, Nadine Shanti, Carlos Simon, Hale Smith, Irene Britton Smith, Brandon Spencer, Hilbert Stewart, Howard Swanson, George Walker, Aurelia Young

    Song(s): Amazing Grace (H. Leslie Adams)
    Christmas Lullaby (H. Leslie Adams)
    Sence You Went Away (H. Leslie Adams)
    The Heart of a Woman (H. Leslie Adams)
    The Alarm Clock (David N. Baker)
    The Negro Speaks of Rivers (Margaret Bonds)
    Caring (Charles Brown)
    Desire (Charles Brown)
    Your Eyes So Deep (H. T. Burleigh)
    Your Lips Are Wine (H. T. Burleigh)
    Autumn (Valerie Capers)
    Elëanore (Samuel Coleridge-Taylor)
    The Willow Song (Samuel Coleridge-Taylor)
    Minakesh (Arthur Cunningham)
    Stars (Harriette Davison Watkins)
    Out in the Fields (William Dawson)
    The Refused (Mark Fax)
    With Rue My Heart Is Laden (Bruce Forsythe)
    Suspiro d’alma (Antônio Carlos Gomes)
    If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking (Adolphus Hailstork)
    Longing (Adolphus Hailstork)
    Loveliest of Trees (Adolphus Hailstork)
    Dormi, Jesu (Jacqueline Hairston)
    Gardé Piti Mulet Là (Maud Cuney Hare)
    I’ll Not Forget (Jeraldine Herbison)
    Little Elegy (Jonathan Holland)
    In Time of Silver Rain (Sylvia Hollifield)
    The Founding Fathers (Langston Hughes)
    This is My Land (Langston Hughes)
    L’il Gal (J. Rosamond Johnson)
    Soliloquy (Thomas Kerr)
    Amazing Grace (Lena McLin)
    The Year’s at the Spring (Lena McLin)
    I Am in Doubt (Undine Smith Moore)
    I Want to Die While You Love Me (Undine Smith Moore)
    For a Poet (Andre Myers)
    Chere, Mo Lemmé Toi (Camille Nickerson)
    Gué, Gué, Solingaie (Camille Nickerson)
    Mshila (Fred Onovwerosuoke)
    Entreaty (I Am the Rose of Sharon) (Eurydice Osterman)
    Could I but Ride Indefinite (Robert Owens)
    Die Nacht (Robert Owens)
    From the Dark Tower (Robert Owens)
    The Lynching (Robert Owens)
    The Secret (Robert Owens)
    Madrigal (Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson)
    O Children of Men (Zenobia Powell Perry)
    I Want to Die While You Love Me (Rosephanye Powell)
    Spring (Florence Price)
    The Sum (Florence Price)
    Martin Luther King, Jr. (Dave Ragland)
    Mangez, Boulez (Eat, Drink, Be Merry) (Nadine Shanti)
    Prayer (Carlos Simon)
    Troubled Woman (Hale Smith)
    Why Fades a Dream? (Irene Britton Smith)
    Dream Variations (Brandon Spencer)
    Spring Song (Hilbert Stewart)
    One Day (Howard Swanson)
    I Went to Heaven (George Walker)
    Norris Swamp (Aurelia Young)

    Voice Type: 36 Songs are for High Voice - Medium to High Voice
    24 Songs are for Medium - Medium to Low Voice

    Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

    Camille Nickerson: "Five Creole Songs"

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    Camille Nickerson: "Seven Creole Songs

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    Camille Nickerson: "Micheu Banjo"

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    Camille Nickerson: "Dansé conni conné!"

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    Camille Nickerson: "Fais do do"

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    Camille Nickerson: "Lizette, ma chêre amie"

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    Camille Nickerson: "Chère, mo lemmé toi"

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    Camille Nickerson: "You don' know when"

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