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Bobbie Hearns Local San Diego Music Teacher

February 10, 2012

Bobbie Hearns, born before the mid-twentieth century is still active in education and the arts. Her passion for teaching is legendary and inspiring. She lives by the mottoes “Each one teach one”  and “Give to others as it has been given to you.” She is a musician, author, and community activist.

We met almost a decade ago when I served as the stage manager for a Blackbox Theater event at the City Heights Weingart Public Library.   A youthful woman whose stature is encased in a small frame,  Bobbie Hearns walked in quietly. She softly asked if she could warm up before the event. I walked her to the piano. Then, she sat down, inhaled deeply, and proceeded to dazzle with her musicianship. I have been intrigued with such humility ever since. It is an honor to know her.

A few years ago, Bobbie and I sat down at her living room table one evening before our rehearsal for the group Hard Headed Girls, Visionary Women founded by poet and president of the San Diego African American Writers & Artists Inc. Sylvia Cameron Telafaro.

Hard Headed Girls, Visionary Women traveling  troupe was assembled to celebrate and bring voice to women of color’s cultural contribution to everyday lives during Women’s History Month.  The troupe presented shows around the San Diego County area.  Although I am no longer part of the ensemble performers, it was an uplifting experience of music, poetry, and narrativity. At that dining room table, woman to woman, we began talking and remembering. It is a traditional site for such frank, heart to heart conversation for women of color. The table is a safe place where we come to dialogue over morning coffee or an evening glass of  warm milk, to eat, dream, think, speak, sigh, cry, laugh, and share—-which led to this informal interview.

Q: Where were you born?

A: I was born in Kansas City Missouri in the 1930s to a father who was a trash man, general repairman, guitar player and a piano playing mother who never worked outside the home. She played for church choirs and taught piano.

Q: Did your m,om’s teaching provide a lot of extra income?

A. Not really, I remember one of her students who bartered math tutoring for music lessons. Many of us were on the barter system back then.

Q. What about you? When did you start being interested in music?

A. When I got my first salary as a piano player for my church Sunday School at age ten!

Q. What church was that?

A. The AME church. It has a vast amount of music history going back to the 1700s.1 I started playing at the age of five but hated it. The piano seemed so huge. I thought to myself, Mom hates me, I don’t want to play this big monster she wants me to play. My mom would say: “You don’t have to do much, just dust the furniture and play. Your brother will do the rest including picking things up off the floor and taking out the trash.”

(We laughed . . .a common memory . . .African American moms who mentor a second generation of artistry are often very protective of their artistic chidren.)

Q. When you finally decided to play and were paid, what was that like?

A. Well, I played for a choir for sixteen years and the director sang from the hymnal, encouraged music literacy. The director was classically trained and stressed the music education aspect. My mom told me to keep playing, the money I earned was all mine, to buy what I needed–not to spend on frivilous things, but on what I needed.

Q. So, like quite a few African American classically trained (and informally trained) pianist at that time,  the church was also a definite influence in your musical career?

A. Oh yes, those in the music department of our church mentored the younger musicians by being living examples of music excellence.


This an excerpt from the chapter “Up Close and Personal” –a series of interviews from my upcoming book.

Delores Fisher

1. Richard Allen collected favorite songs choices from his congregation and had printed by John Ormrod fifty-four hymn texts without music in A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns from Various Authors by Richard Allen, African Minister. Eileen Southern. “Let My People Go: Two Wars and the Nation.” The Music of Black Americans: A History. 3rd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company 1997) pp 75-80.


  1. thanks for the nice blog. it was very useful for me. keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. this was actually what i was looking for, and i am glad to come here!


    • It is important to celebrate many of the unsung workers in the arts. Bobbie spent several decades as a community cultural worker and she keeps on giving lessons, tutoring, and mentoring youth as well as young adults. She recently had another “Summer Breeze” piano student concert at Southeast San Diego’s Malcolm X Library and Performing Arts Center.


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