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Natchez teacher uses music to reach souls

Kendra J. Washington obtained her undergraduate degree from Alcorn State University, and followed up with a Master’s Degree from the University of Mississippi. She plans to return to Ole Miss in the future to obtain her doctorate. Currently, she teaches piano, and directs the band for both Morgantown Arts Academy and Robert Lewis Magnet School. (Morgan Mizell / The Natchez Democrat)

Kendra J. Washington obtained her undergraduate degree from Alcorn State University, and followed up with a Master’s Degree from the University of Mississippi. She plans to return to Ole Miss in the future to obtain her doctorate. Currently, she teaches piano, and directs the band for both Morgantown Arts Academy and Robert Lewis Magnet School. (Morgan Mizell / The Natchez Democrat)

By Morgan Mizell

NATCHEZ — Music has always played an important part in Kendra J. Washington’s life, both personally and professionally, as her contribution to church and the community.

As a child, she began singing, and playing the piano in her father’s church, Ebenezer A.M.E., in Brookhaven, Mississippi.

“My father was the minister, and our lives revolved around the church,” Washington said. “My older siblings, as well as myself, were enrolled in piano lessons, at our mother’s urging; and they led the music until they graduated. Then, it was my turn.”

Washington sang her first solo in the church at the age of 2, and was featured on television at the age of 3 singing, “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy.”

“I never took vocal lessons until I got into college,” Washington said. “I was involved in school plays and musicals, but I never got any coaching for singing until later – I just sang.”

Washington’s first instrument to learn, other than the piano, was the saxophone.

“My older siblings had been in the band, and there was a saxophone left that my mother told me I would play,” Washington said. “It was not my first choice, but it is now one of my favorite instruments.”

Early on, Washington recalled a teacher inquiring what her plans for her future were. Washington’s response was quick.

“I told her I wanted to be a singer and a marine biologist,” Washington said. “I am not sure how the two fit together, exactly; however, as I got a little older, I could not let the music aspect go. I really wanted to pursue music – I wanted to be a band director.”

During her time in college, Washington said she continued to entertain the ideas of other degree plans; however, music won in the end.

“I knew becoming a teacher was not going to make me rich, as they are not paid a great deal of money,” Washington said. “I thought about a career in the medical field or engineering, because I knew I could do it, but I could never let go of the music.”

Washington obtained her undergraduate degree from Alcorn State University, and followed up with a Master’s Degree from the University of Mississippi. She plans to return to Ole Miss in the future to obtain her doctorate.

Currently, she teaches piano, and directs the band for both Morgantown Arts Academy and Robert Lewis Magnet School. She is also the pianist, organist and worship leader for three churches: Ebenezer A.M.E, in Brookhaven, every first Sunday; and Zion Hill #1 and St. Paul A.M.E, both in Natchez, for the remaining Sundays.

Washington says her duties in the church have never felt like a job to her, but more like her contribution to the worship experience. “I always wanted to participate,” Washington said. “I let what I do in church overflow into my professional life as a teacher, as well. It keeps my spirit lifted, as it can be very challenging at times.”

For Washington, her faith walk and church responsibilities have helped to shape her into an example for her students. She believes in music, and hopes to express its importance to her classes every day.

“Music can take you anywhere,” Washington said. “Music is uplifting, and that is why I love it so much. It has a way of touching someone’s soul, without anyone having to say a word.”

Washington says she would love to do more personal performing, and she also hopes her students are able to experience more performance opportunities.

Washington and her husband, Marcus, both teach and perform locally for small venues. She advises anyone thinking about a career as a music teacher to make sure it is something they love, but to remember to save something, musically, for themselves.

“I would tell anyone thinking they are too old to learn an instrument, or thinking they can not sing well, that it is not about being a ‘professional,’ as much as it is about nurturing your soul,” Washington said. “It is about lifting your spirit, along with someone else. It is ultimately about glorifying God.”

Anyone interested in more information about private lessons or her performing at an event should contact her at kendraantoinette@gmail.com.

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