Camille Nickerson

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Camille Nickerson
An African-American woman wearing a dark jacket and beads
Camille Nickerson, from a 1925 issue of The Crisis
BornMarch 30, 1888
New Orleans, Louisiana, US
DiedApril 27, 1982
Washington, D.C.
Other names"The Louisiana Lady"
OccupationMusician, composer, folklorist, college professor

Camille Lucie Nickerson (March 30, 1888 – April 27, 1982) was a pianist, composer, arranger, collector, and Howard University professor from 1926 to 1962. She was influenced by Creole folksongs of Louisiana, which she arranged and sang.

Early life and education[edit]

Nickerson was born in the French Quarter of New Orleans,[1] the daughter of music professor and band director William Joseph Nickerson and his first wife, Aurelie Duconge.[2] She was a member of her father's musical ensemble, the Nickerson Ladies’ Orchestra, from an early age.[3] She earned a bachelor's degree in 1916 and a master's degree in 1932 at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. She continued her studies with support from a Rosenwald Fellowship. Her master's thesis at Oberlin was titled "Afro-Creole Music in Louisiana: A Thesis on the Plantation Songs Created by the Creole Negroes of Louisiana."[4]

She made further studies on a sabbatical in 1939 and 1940, at Columbia University and the Juilliard School.[2]


Nickerson taught at her father's school in New Orleans as a young woman, and played organ and piano recitals in Black churches.[5] She was a professor of music at Howard University from 1926 to 1962. As a music scholar, she researched folksongs and collected Creole songs, creating her own arrangements of songs including Michieu banjo and Lizette, to quitte la plaine.[1]

During the 1930s and into the 1950s[6] she toured the United States as "The Louisiana Lady",[7][8] singing creole songs and dressed in a series of ruffled gowns to evoke New Orleans history.[9] She was a featured performer in the Negro Exhibits Building at the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936.[10] She toured France as a cultural relations representative in 1954, sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA); her success on radio and stage in France was helped by her fluent French.[2]

From 1935 to 1938, Nickerson was president of the National Association of Negro Musicians. She was an officer of the organization as early as 1925.[11] She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta.[2] Some of her arrangements were published as Five Creole Songs Harmonized and Arranged by Camille Nickerson (1942).[4]

Personal life and legacy[edit]

Nickerson died in Washington, D.C. in 1982, aged 94 years. Her papers were donated to Howard University. Tulane University's Hogan Archive holds some papers from Nickerson's New Orleans years.[4]


  1. ^ a b "Camille Nickerson in New Orleans Spotlight". The Pittsburgh Courier. 1947-01-04. p. 9. Retrieved 2021-02-08 – via
  2. ^ a b c d Simpson, Anne Key (1995). "Camille Lucie Nickerson, "The Louisiana Lady"". Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association. 36 (4): 431–451. ISSN 0024-6816.
  3. ^ "Camille Nickerson - Classical Music Composers". Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Retrieved 2021-02-08.
  4. ^ a b c Collins, Peter. "Camille Nickerson - Know Louisiana". 64 Parishes. Retrieved 2021-02-08.
  5. ^ Thomas, V. P. (1923-01-13). "Camille Nickerson Gave Organ Recital with Choir". The New York Age. p. 7. Retrieved 2021-02-08 – via
  6. ^ "Singer of Creole Folk Songs Has Star Spot in Festival". St. Louis Globe-Democrat. 1953-03-27. p. 10. Retrieved 2021-02-08 – via
  7. ^ "Camille Nickerson Appears on Dillard Univ. Program". The Pittsburgh Courier. 1939-06-03. p. 6. Retrieved 2021-02-08 – via
  8. ^ "'Louisiana Lady' to Give Costume Recital Here". The News Journal. 1945-04-12. p. 13. Retrieved 2021-02-08 – via
  9. ^ "Camille Nickerson". African American Art Song Alliance. Retrieved 2021-02-08.
  10. ^ "Plays at Texas Centennial". The Detroit Tribune. 1936-08-29. p. 2. Retrieved 2021-02-08 – via
  11. ^ "Newly Elected Officers of the National Association of Negro Musicians". The Crisis. 30: 233. August 1925 – via HathiTrust.

Further reading[edit]

  • Anderson, Ruth E. Contemporary American Composers: A Biographical Dictionary. Boston: G.K Hall, 1976
  • Smith, Jessie Carey, ed. Notable Black Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1992
  • Southern, Eileen. Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American Women and African Musicians. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982

External links[edit]