Seastrunk Spent Life Teaching Others Love Of Music
Johnnie Seastrunk has been told she started playing the piano by ear at age 3, although she doesn't remember back that far.
Mrs. Seastrunk, 80, does remember her mother, a music instructor, teaching her how to play and passing down her love of music. She grew up in Tyler and St. Louis Baptist Church, where her father, a barber, was a deacon and her mother played piano and sang, she said. Mrs. Seastrunk has spent her life carrying on that tradition.
"Everybody in my family loved music and of course, they encouraged me," she said. "That's all I've ever known."
After her mother taught her the techniques of playing music, Mrs. Seastrunk realized she didn't want to be able to just play one kind of music, she said. She wanted to learn more. She earned a music degree from Butler College in Tyler and studied at Texas Southern University.
She taught music for about 40 years and retired twice. "I loved it," she said.
She started teaching music at an elementary school in Powell before moving back to Tyler and teaching at Griffin, Rice and Jones elementary schools. While teaching and raising five children along with her late husband, Henry Lee Seastrunk Jr., she took continuing education courses at Texas College. After her first retirement, she was asked to teach at Griffin Elementary School, which was right next door to her home, she said.
Growing up with her extended family in St. Louis Baptist Church, Mrs. Seastrunk said, "I wouldn't give anything for it. It was just wonderful." Mrs. Seastrunk and her mother put on a Christmas pageant at the church each year. And after years of serving as the music minister, Mrs. Seastrunk still plays and works with the church's youth.
"She had that chorus rocking," longtime friend Darlene Lewis said of Mrs. Seastrunk.
Ms. Lewis came to Tyler from Jacksonville in 1959 to attend Texas College, where she met Mrs. Seastrunk. The two taught together and Ms. Lewis nominated her friend to be recognized as one of the nine Women in Tyler this year because she thought she was deserving of it, Ms. Lewis said. "She doesn't know how to say no," she said.
Ms. Lewis recalls her friend being asked to return to teaching after retirement and called to perform at luncheons, weddings and other events. She also played at functions for the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and Top Ladies of Distinction, of which Mrs. Seastrunk was a member. "They knew when they needed a good, first class musician, they got her," she said.
Mrs. Seastrunk said she was surprised to learn she was named one of the Women in Tyler.
"It's just hard to describe it," she said. "I just appreciate it so much. I love my music and I love the fact that other people enjoy my music."
Mrs. Seastrunk encourages young people to learn more about music.
"I've worked with children; they had talent. The ones with no talent; they're the ones always on the piano banging," she said laughing.
Mrs. Seastrunk doesn't mind when people ask her how old she is.
"I am proud the Lord has seen fit to leave me here this long," she said before sitting down at a piano Thursday and playing her favorite hymn, "To God Be the Glory."