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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About

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It can be inferred that many of Nickerson’s unpublished arrangements, especially transcriptions of city sounds and street cries, have been lost.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, 64parishes.org/entry/camille-nickerson. 

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. https://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2624

McGinty, Doris E., and Camille Nickerson. “The Louisiana Lady.” The Black Perspective in Music, vol. 7, no. 1, 1979, pp. 81–94. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1214430. 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, www.jstor.org/stable/4233240. Accessed 11 July 2020.

Related Information

Songs

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Sheet Music

Camille Nickerson: "Five Creole Songs"

Composer(s): Nickerson

Voice Type: Medium

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Camille Nickerson: "Seven Creole Songs

Composer(s): Nickerson

Voice Type: Medium

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Camille Nickerson: "Micheu Banjo"

Composer(s): Nickerson

Voice Type: Medium

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Camille Nickerson: "Dansé conni conné!"

Composer(s): Nickerson

Voice Type: Medium

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Camille Nickerson: "Fais do do"

Composer(s): Nickerson

Voice Type: Medium

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Camille Nickerson: "Lizette, ma chêre amie"

Composer(s): Nickerson

Voice Type: Medium

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Camille Nickerson: "Chère, mo lemmé toi"

Composer(s): Nickerson

Voice Type: Medium

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Camille Nickerson: "You don' know when"

Composer(s): Nickerson

Voice Type: Medium

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