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Music has been a part of Helen Mumphrey’s life since she began “piddling around on the piano” at age 3.
At age 9, she began taking piano lessons with Mrs. Dewey Akers.
“At that time, it was 75 cents a half hour,” Mumphrey recalls. “It was still hard to come up with it, but my mother did. She made sure I got that training.”
Though she learned to read music, she initially learned to play the songs she was taught by memorizing the movements of Mrs. Akers’ hands when she introduced each piece of music.
“I never did look at the books,” but she would return the next week and play the new piece flawlessly, she recalled.
In high school, she and her friends Brenda Barber and Joyce Bohannon performed at lunch time. “We thought we were so good ... We called ourselves the Junior Supremes.”
Her ability to play piano, coupled with a strong voice tailor-made for gospel music, comes straight from God, she said.
And it is for him that she has continued to perform.
Mumphrey has been the pianist at the Carrollton Second Baptist Church and for churches in Louisville. In her younger days, she was part of a 120-member traveling choir.
But it is when she performs one-on-one for her audience that the spirit moves her. “There’s a magnitude I can’t explain to anyone, except it’s from God,” she said Monday, prior to a solo performance at New Horizons Assisted Living in Carrollton, where she sang in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. “I can hit notes I didn’t think I could; what a feeling. I feel so complete when I do that ... I give God all the glory. It’s not what I’ve done, it’s what he’s done through me.”
Mumphrey has performed all her life in and around Carrollton,at Relay for Life events, school events, church services and any time and any place someone has a need. Most recently, she sang at the funeral of her dear friend, Evelyn “Tricky” Welch.
“Tricky was such an inspiration to me, to use my talents more,” Mumphrey said, who attended school with Welch. “She would say, ‘There’s nobody on earth that can sing like you.’”
Mumphrey, who turns 60 this year, also draws inspiration from her mother. “She died in 1988, and I miss her as much today as I did then. She was a single mother with three children. I don’t think we turned out bad. She didn’t go to high school, but she got her smarts from life.”
In addition to singing, Mumphrey, who now lives in Warsaw, has found a new outlet for her ministry through an unusual medium – Facebook. She logs onto the site almost daily and posts devotionals. “That puts me in the mood to deal with the day,” she said. Most recently, she was inspired to write, “You don’t know how strong you can be until strength is all you have.”
“I just get inspired and will share with my Facebook friends and family,” she said. In addition to her original devotionals, she also will share videos and other inspirational stuff she finds on YouTube and Christian websites.
If she misses a day, people will let her know they’ve missed her. “My son thinks I’m on [Facebook] too much, but apparently I’m not,” she said, smiling.
Through Facebook, Mumphrey said she has been able to get reacquainted with people she sang with in the traveling choir.
She admits that the choir members were sometimes led astray, drinking alcohol with their director before going on stage. They weren’t unlike most young people, who had a lot to learn but also wanted to have a lot of fun, she said.
But, out of that group, she’s discovered there are now 30 ministers and 25 lay speakers, the term given to women who speak from the pulpit.
“Out of that group of devils, the Lord took and turned us all around,” she said.
She’s also come across old friends from college online. “Some have had it rough. One has lost all his family members, each a year apart,” she said. “He told me ‘God is all I have. I’m closer now than I ever was. Sometimes he’s got to take us there; to take something to show us everything.’
“But the good news is, we’re still here to tell our stories,” she added. “And everyone has a story – some are good, some are bad, some are love stories, some are horror stories,” she said. “That’s why it’s wonderful to be able to share.”
Mumphrey said she is always available to anyone who needs an ear. “I’m getting older, so you may have to talk a little louder,” she jokes. “But the road gets tough, and the mountains are hard to climb. He’ll help you over them; he won’t move them, because that’s the lesson. And he’ll get you home.”
She admits that, while she’s always been involved in church choirs, she didn’t always have the faith she has now. She said she didn’t understand, at first, the power of the Bible.
“The Bible has all the tools you need, right there. All of the comfort, healing friendship and love. Right there. It took me years to realize that,” she said. “Until I lived the life I was singing about, none of those songs meant anything to me. But now, they do.”
Still, with all that God has given her to do with her life, Mumphrey feels there’s still more in store for her.
“I still feel that the Lord’s got something else for me to do. I just feel that calling; there is something else. I don’t know what it is, but I’m thinking, I’m getting old now. I get so excited, maybe he’s waiting until I’m still ... maybe in a wheelchair, when I can’t move as fast.”
Until then, she has her music and her Facebook ministry. “If I can just help one person, just one person to listen and come over to the Lord’s side, my mission is complete.” Then, she smiled and admitted: “It wouldn’t stop me; I’d still keep going and move some more [people] over.”