By Jocelyn Y. Stewart
May 13, 2006
brought awareness of classical music way back then”
Among the first students to
study piano under Rachel Eubanks were her two younger brothers, who
learned in the living room of the family
home during the Great Depression.
The boys soon discovered that their teacher was
aiming high. She expected her students to focus, use proper hand position,
appreciate the work of the masters - never mind that they were only 6 and
9 or that she was just 12.
'She wanted to direct us to a high standard,'
recalled Jonathan Eubanks, who was 6 when he began studying with his
sister. 'She was a disciplinarian. In other words, don't waste her time.
We couldn't sit there and decide to play boogie-woogie if she was teaching
For more than 50 years, Eubanks taught music in
Los Angeles in much the same manner. Many of those years were spent on
Crenshaw Boulevard near 48th Street, where two converted houses served as
the campus for the Eubanks Conservatory of Music and Arts.
At its height, the nonprofit institution was
accredited by the state and each year offered hundreds of students classical
training, pushing generation after generation to strive for musical
'It was like a community school,' said Sophia
Katsnelson, a Eubanks teacher. 'I met a lot of people who say 'about 20
years ago I started at this place, and now I'm bringing my kids'
or even the grandkids.'
Eubanks, a composer, ethnomusicologist and
instructor, died at her home in Los Angeles on April 8. She was 83. The
cause of death was colon cancer, family members said.
The school that Eubanks built was the byproduct of
a passion for music and teaching that began in her youth, said her brother
Jonathan Eubanks of Oakland.
Rachel Amelia Eubanks was born Sept. 12, 1922, in
San Jose to Joseph Sylvester and Elizabeth Amelia Eubanks.
Though the Depression made life hard, the couple
managed to expose their children to the arts: There were trips to the
museum; concerts by Paul
Robeson, Roland Hayes, Marian
Anderson; and visits with family friends of varied cultural
At an elementary school in Oakland, where the
family settled, Eubanks played the alto horn and clarinet. When she
expressed an interest in piano, her father found a way to buy one.
Jonathan Eubanks said his brother 'Joseph and I
would be outside on Saturday morning with our roller skates, going up and
down the hill. And when we turned the corner, we heard Rachel practicing
'She was into serious music and listening to the
Metropolitan Opera on
Saturday morning while she helped Mother with housework,' he said.
To help pay for her own lessons, Eubanks taught
piano and on Sundays played piano at a Baptist church in Oakland and a
Pentecostal church in San Francisco.
She earned a bachelor's degree in music from UC Berkeley,
a master's from Columbia University and a doctorate from Pacific Western
University, which was based in Los Angeles and is now in San Diego.
She headed the music departments at what was then
known as Albany State College in Georgia and at Wilberforce University in
Ohio before settling in Los Angeles.
She began offering piano lessons from her
apartment. In 1951 she opened a school at 47th and Figueroa streets, then
moved to the Crenshaw location in 1963.
In the 1970s and '80s, at the height of its
prominence, the school offered associate's, bachelor's and master's
degrees in instruments, voice performance, theory, composition and music
Margie Evans, founder of Los Angeles Music Week,
called Eubanks an unsung pioneer whose work benefited students who
otherwise might not have had exposure to the kind of training for which
her school was known.
'She brought awareness of classical music way back
then,' said Evans, whose nonprofit organization honors the contributions
of local artists and seeks to provide equitable access to music education
'Dr. Eubanks was very involved in helping children
and even adults understand the arts and the diversity of this city
Over the years, Eubanks was often a student. She
studied at various institutions, including the American Conservatory in
France, where she spent a summer under the tutelage of Nadia Boulanger.
Eubanks wrote for orchestra, smaller instrumental
groups and vocal ensembles,
and her compositions included pieces that reflected her interest in the
music of various cultures.
Her many works, secular and sacred, won her
recognition in the International Dictionary of Black Composers and the
National Assn. of Negro Musicians.
In 1993, thieves broke into the conservatory and
stole several rare instruments that Eubanks had collected over 30 years of
travel. It was a blow to the school's ethnomusicology department and to
Eubanks, who was devastated.
'I was sick at heart for a long time,' she told a
Los Angeles Times reporter that year. 'Now, I have hope that someone might
come forward.' Jonathan Eubanks said the instruments were never recovered.
The conservatory, which was already facing tough
times, never returned to its glory days.
Eventually Eubanks sold the Crenshaw property and
moved the school first to Wilshire Boulevard and then to a church near
Martin Luther King Boulevard and Western Avenue. Enrollment has dwindled
and there is now no central location for the school.
Just before her death, Eubanks was running the
school and teaching piano students from her home, but her standards for
herself and her students remained the same.
'She was suffering from arthritis, but when she
was sitting at the piano, she played absolutely perfect,' Katsnelson said.
In addition to her brothers, Jonathan of Oakland,
and Joseph of Baltimore, she is survived by several nieces, nephews and
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