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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

Elmertha Cole's music influence lives on through DJ booth

How a Memphis music teacher influenced modern music and got a DJ booth named in her honor.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — You can Google Elmertha Cole to your heart's content, but you'll be hard pressed to find anything about her on the web.

The piano/organ teacher didn't set out to become a hero of modern music, but she did.

"When we built this DJ table out of an old organ I read a story about an organ teacher, a piano teacher named Elmertha Cole and I was just like, that's the name. Immediately it just made so much sense," said Jim Thompson of Eggleston Works who built the DJ console.

Central Station Curio Hotel in Memphis is new, but relishes old unique characteristics of Memphis.

Most unique is the DJ console named for Cole.

"She was just such a driving force and very few people know her name and no who she was. But she taught Booker T. Jones piano. She taught a lot of famous Memphians how to play," said Thompson.

Cole taught nearly all of Memphis piano teacher Nicole Johnson's 11 siblings at no charge...part of Cole's kind and generous character.

Johnson calls her a first-class music teacher and possibly the best.

She was big on theory, not just playing the right notes and playing the right rhythm. She was just really good that way and she was laser focused that way," Johnson.

"When you were playing for her. If you made a mistake she had this ruler she'd tap me on the knuckle with. I was thinking after so many times, man I don't want this," said Donald Brown.

Johnson's brother, music professor and jazz pianist Donald Brown says even the few lessons he took from Cole marked his career.

"It was still an exciting thing going over there because she had that piano and she had that organ and all of that was just overwhelming for a young kid like myself," said Brown.

The E.L. Cole Chorale was established at Salem Gilfield Baptist Church in South Memphis where she played nearly until her death in 1982.

How would Cole feel about her namesake were she alive today?

"She would get a kick out of that. She had this humility about herself. She probably would be like, 'What's all the fuss for,'" said Johnson.