Victoria woman spends life playing piano for churches

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

Aug. 13, 2014 at 5:51 p.m.
Updated Aug. 13, 2014 at 10:56 p.m.

From an open door on Woodlawn Street waft the notes of a Baptist hymn.

Inside, Martha Charleston Hill sits at her piano as her fingers dance along the keys.

The 82-year-old mother of nine soulfully plays hymns she has never forgotten despite a brain tumor and two strokes.

Hill began playing piano at Mount Olive Baptist Church in El Campo when she was 11 years old.

"You know, during those days, choir was taught in school. Because we had choir every day, you learned pitch, and you better remember it," Hill said.

Since then, she's only had ears for Baptist hymns. Ask her what hymns she can play, and she'll reply, "name one."

Hill played for more than 20 years at Bethlehem Baptist and Center Union Baptist churches in Victoria. After graduating from El Campo High School in 1950, she attended Mary Allen Seminary then transferred to Texas Southern University, where she studied for a year before coming back home to take care of her ailing father.

She's played for baptisms, funerals and weddings. But her favorite time to play is at 11 a.m. service.

Sundays, Hill still finds herself on a piano bench at a Baptist church in Bloomington.

But times have changed during her career as a musician.

"A lot of us had to take choir as an elective because we couldn't afford anything else," Nola Harris, Hill's daughter, said. "Everybody was so involved with it that they learned what their voice was and that's what made up this community of such good voices. Choirs were awesome."

Hill has been married twice. She lost her first husband to throat cancer and her second to diabetes.

But her family remains close. Harris looks back at the times when her mom loaded all nine kids up in the car to drive to Hungerford to play at the church there.

"She very seldom left us behind. We all went with her on the road," Harris said. "I can remember if we weren't sitting up or if we were acting up in church - all she had to do was look at us. And we knew what that meant: 'You're going to get it now, or you're going to get it later.' But she had a job to do, and she'd do it. She was great."



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