Helping communities across the state connect their heritage arts and traditions to local development, education, and active citizenship
Tillery, Halifax County, NC
Tillery native Delores Amason is a gifted pianist, singer, and unofficial regional historian with a deep understanding of the place that she calls home. Tillery, a small community in Halifax County, was founded as a New Deal resettlement community for African American farmers in the 1930s. “[My father] was reared and worked on the Tillery Plantation,” she recalls. “At the time of the resettlement, Daddy got an opportunity to buy a 40-acre farm, and he did.”
In addition to farm work and other traditional values, Amason’s elders taught younger community about life beyond Tillery. “Our parents and grandparents always strived to get us exposed to other things,” she says. “I think the positive thing about that is it made us love Tillery even more, even though there were so many things we didn't have.” As a child, she learned to play a piano that her family had inherited from her grandmother. “For a lack of anything else to do,” Amason remembers, “I used to play with it, and that's where I picked up little things I do—on that old piano.” Amason received informal lessons from a friend’s mother, and before long was regularly playing in church and singing with friends.
“Me and two other girls would sit on the school bus on the way home…and we'd sing and harmonize. Then, when we got to a piano, we'd pick it out and the three of us sang. My friend Van and I became known as the Gospelettes, and we started singing in different churches; we even had a television debut on a show out of Greenville called the Sammy Bland Show.”
Following her graduation from North Carolina Central University, Amason moved with her husband to the Washington, DC area. She returned to Tillery ten years later, working as a teacher until she retired. “It was my passion,” she says of her years in the classroom. “I loved it.”
Throughout, Amason played piano at her home church, Tillery Chapel. While her musical knowledge is wide-ranging, she is drawn to the old favorite hymns that appear in the National Baptist Hymn Book. “I guarantee you that nine out of ten of these hymnals that have been used, the pages will fall open to certain songs," she says, "because we sing the same songs over and over again.”