Finding a Voice through Music: Implications for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy


  • LaVerne Bell-Tolliver University of Arkansas


This article will focus on the role music played in the life of a young African American girl growing up in the south during the civil rights movement. Born into an authoritarian household, the young girl found comfort in the sound of singing and in the music she heard in the church. She received lessons singing and playing piano at a very early age; her music helped her feel a sense of self-worth. In 1961, amid the backdrop of civil unrest, the young adolescent was enrolled in what had been an all-white junior high school. For two years, she was the only African American student to attend the school; her life reflected the struggle played out across the country in acts of violence and racial tension. As a young girl struggling in an oppressive school environment, she again found solace in singing. Silenced by teachers who ignored her, and by classmates who taunted her in the halls, the shy student found some sense of relief in the choral classroom where the act of singing gave her a voice. Music continued to play an important role in her life as she grew up in the quickly changing landscape of the south during the 50s and 60s. Drawing upon these experiences, we will explore how music can both reflect and affect a person's life and we will consider a framework for creating a positive, supportive environment for all choral musicians.

Author Biography

LaVerne Bell-Tolliver, University of Arkansas

LaVerne Bell-Tolliver will be celebrating her 40th year, in 2013, as a masters level clinical social worker. She is currently a Licensed Certified Social Worker in the State of Arkansas, registered play therapist supervisor, and a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Throughout the years, LaVerne has worked in the fields of mental health, child protective services, and in private practice primarily in the Dallas, Texas, area. In the latter part of 2004, LaVerne graduated with her PhD in family therapy at Texas Woman’s University and moved to the Counseling Services of Eastern Arkansas. He is now an associate professor in the UALR School of Social Work. LaVerne currently serves on three boards: Freedom for Youth, Inc., a non-profit organization of Helena-West Helena, Arkansas dedicated to empowering children, youth, and families; the Arkansas branch of the Association for Play Therapy; and the prison Re-entry board of Directors at the Pine Bluff prison unit. In addition, she is the current president of the Central Arkansas Branch of the National Association of Black Social Workers. Finally, LaVerne has been an active participant in the Chancellor’s Committee on Race since its inception in 2007 and serves as an Institute Associate of the UALR Institute of Race and Ethnicity.