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C-N Alumna’s Estate Gift Supplies New Instruments to Music Department

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Carson-Newman’s music department is benefitting from the generosity the late Nancy Jane Blair, a Knoxville native and 1959 Carson-Newman alumna who bequeathed the bulk of her estate to her alma mater’s music program. Carson-Newman will present a concert on Saturday, November 5 to celebrate her life and dedicate her contribution to God’s glory.

A double benefit of the estate gift is that the benefactor wanted it to provide the greatest good possible now, say music department officials. To fulfill Blair’s wish for immediate use, funds were directed to purchase 14 new pianos, refurbish four others as well as three organs, and provide Tarr Music Center its first Smartboard-equipped classroom.

“The gift we received from Nancy Jane Blair is exceptional for several reasons,” said Dr. Jeremy Buckner, chair of C-N’s music department. “It demonstrates how much value and importance she gave to our music department and to Carson-Newman, and it provides significant and immediate educational benefit to our students. Her gift helps us to affirm and to continue toward our departmental mission, which is to provide high-quality music education as part of our Christian, liberal-arts heritage that will produce the next generation of church worship leaders and music teachers. We are so grateful for her gift and humbled by her immense generosity.”

A Knoxville native who grew up in Oneida, Blair graduated from Carson-Newman with a BA in music education in 1959 and earned a master’s degree in church music from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She invested 40 years in leading worship, first as minister of music at the First Baptist Church of Osceola, Arkansas, from 1961 to 1976 and then as organist-music associate at Decatur, Georgia’s Briarlake Baptist Church from 1976 until her 2002 retirement. From her retirement until her passing last year, she was a member of Smoke Rise Baptist, located in Stone Mountain, Georgia, where she sang in the choir, served as a deacon and substituted at the organ when needed.

Blair earned an organ degree from the American Guild of Organists and was presented SWBTS’s School of Church Music’s Distinguished Service Award in 2003. A stalwart member of the Jubalheirs, Georgia Baptist Convention’s group of female ministers of music, she was also known for her support of young people and for promoting music for Kingdom service.

“Nancy was kind, cared for others deeply and loved her music and our music department,” said Professor Ann Jones, C-N music professor who knew her from their student days. “She was a very generous person who gave of her talents to others and to God. She would do anything she could for others.”

“If you knew her at all your life was affected, said Paul Clark, director of Worship & Music Ministries for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, adding, “… the effects of her life on my ministry are permanent.”

Though they served together for only a brief time, Clark said he left Briarlake with his friend’s conditional approval. “When I was making my decision to accept my current position and move away from Georgia, Nancy told me the only reason she would forgive me for leaving was that I was going to serve as director of Worship & Music Ministries in Tennessee, and because I might find ways to help her alma mater in my new role.”

Blair’s commitment to excellence was exemplary, recalled Clark. “Her passion for musical artistry expressed in the church as a worthy offering of worship was unsurpassed and most contagious for any church musician.”

The organist’s generosity was not limited to her alma mater, said Charlotte Johnson, a Briarlake friend who said Blair was gracious to a number of groups including churches, Oneida High School’s band and the Hawaii Baptist Academy, which she supported as a member of its mainland advisory group. Beyond numerous gifts to Briarlake during the course of her time there, which included hand bells, a grand piano and organ upgrades, Blair commissioned the presentation of a concert by the piano duo Nielson and Young to thank the congregation for her opportunity to serve it.

“That’s unusual, I think,” said Charlotte Johnson. “Most would only expect appreciation for their service.”

Events to celebrate Blair’s generosity will begin with a recital at 2 p.m. on November 5 in Thomas Recital Hall, located in Tarr Music Center. Other activities will include the opportunity to see instruments provided, a demonstration of the new classroom technology and for the benefactor’s friends to record Story Core-style audio memories that will be archived in the department’s library.

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