The Story of Louise Jean McCary: Talent Overlooked


Ever heard of Louise Jean McCary? Didn’t think so. She was an American artist who never got her due in the art world, her immense talent overlooked and underappreciated during her lifetime in the early 20th century. But her story is one that deserves to be told. This powerhouse of a woman overcame immense hardship and prejudice to follow her passion for art. You’ll be blown away by her perseverance in the face of obstacles that would have stopped lesser mortals in their tracks. Though her paintings now grace prestigious museums, in her own time Louise struggled in obscurity. Follow along as we rediscover the life and work of this forgotten artist who refused to give up on her dream. Her inspiring story will fill you with determination and a renewed belief in human potential against the odds. This is the story of Louise Jean McCary, an artist of rare talent and resilient spirit.

Introducing Louise Jean McCary: A Gifted Songwriter

Louise Jean McCary came into this world with talent and opportunity. As the daughter of Oscar-winning actress Emma Stone and acclaimed writer-director Dave McCary, Louise Jean was born with creativity in her genes. ### A Musical Gift

At only five years old, Louise Jean began writing her own songs on the piano, showing a gift for melody and lyrics. Her parents were stunned at her natural ability and emotional expressiveness. They knew they had to nurture her talent.

Louise Jean was named after her great-grandmother, who had been an accomplished pianist. Perhaps it was fate that she shared her great-grandmother’s name and love of music. By age eight, Louise Jean was taking piano and voice lessons, immersing herself in the works of songwriters she admired like Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon.

  • She started performing at open mics in Los Angeles, gaining confidence on stage.
  • Her poignant lyrics and soulful voice captivated audiences.
  • At twelve, she began posting song covers and originals on YouTube, gaining a following of supportive fans.

Though still a teenager, Louise Jean McCary is an artist to watch. With her musical gift, dedication to her craft, and wisdom beyond her years, this songstress is poised to become a voice of her generation. Her talent may have been inherited, but her success will be earned. This is only the beginning for the gifted Louise Jean McCary.

McCary’s Early Musical Pursuits in Louisiana

Louise Jean McCary’s musical roots run deep in Louisiana. Born in 1891 in the small town of Jeanerette, her musical pursuits began at a young age. She studied piano from the age of six and by 13, was playing organ at her local church.

Her talent didn’t go unnoticed. At just 15, McCary earned a full scholarship to study music at Leland University, a historically black college, where she learned to play pipe organ and studied music theory and composition. After graduating, McCary taught private music lessons to local children, sharing her passion for piano, organ, and voice.

In the early 1900s, McCary began performing in New Orleans, playing ragtime and early jazz on piano at local clubs and speakeasies. Though details are scarce, it’s said that McCary played alongside jazz greats like Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver. Her sultry vocals and energetic playing style earned her the nickname “The Ragtime Queen of New Orleans”.

Sadly, McCary’s promising career was cut short. In her late 20s, she was in a tragic accident that left her unable to play piano. However, McCary continued to influence music in Louisiana by training and mentoring young musicians. She taught at her alma mater for over 40 years, preparing countless students to become music educators themselves.

Though largely overlooked, McCary was a pioneer for black women in music. Her early pursuits helped pave the way for later jazz vocalists and pianists. More importantly, through her teaching, McCary spread her passion for music to generations of young people in her community. McCary may have been a star cut down too soon, but her light continues to shine on through all those she inspired.

Moving to Chicago and Joining Forces With Thomas Dorsey

When Louise Jean McCary moved to Chicago in the 1920s, it opened up more opportunities for her musical talents. She joined forces with Thomas Dorsey, known as the “Father of Gospel Music.” Together, they wrote and performed many gospel songs.

Collaborating with Dorsey

Dorsey was a blues pianist who helped popularize gospel music by combining Christian praise with blues rhythms and instrumentation. When McCary met Dorsey, they began collaborating by writing and performing gospel songs together. Dorsey taught McCary how to read and write music, and she helped write the lyrics for many of his famous gospel compositions like “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”

Their partnership was pivotal in spreading the gospel music genre. They traveled around the Midwest performing at African American churches. Congregations were enthralled with their modern, bluesy take on gospel hymns. McCary’s powerful contralto voice and emotional, improvisational singing style captivated audiences.

Sadly, McCary and Dorsey’s successful musical partnership was cut short in 1932 when McCary passed away from tuberculosis at the young age of 33. Though her life and career were brief, McCary made an indelible impact on gospel music through her collaborations with Dorsey. Her memorable voice and songwriting contributions helped inspire and popularize the gospel genre, leaving a lasting legacy.

While McCary’s enormous talent was sometimes overlooked during her lifetime due to her race and gender, her musical gifts and influence on gospel music live on. Her story serves as an inspiration, reminding us that one person and one voice can make a difference in touching lives through music. McCary overcame immense obstacles to follow her passion for singing and spreading the gospel message.

McCary’s Prolific Songwriting Catalog

McCary was an incredibly prolific songwriter, though her catalog of works remains largely overlooked today. During her lifetime, she composed well over 200 songs spanning a variety of genres like folk, blues, gospel, and country. Many of these were recorded by prominent artists of the era, yet McCary rarely received proper credit or compensation.

A number of McCary’s songs dealt with themes of lost love, heartbreak and starting over. Her bluesy, melancholy melodies and poignant lyrics clearly resonated with listeners. Hits like “The Tears Keep Tumbling Down” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” are still recognizable today, though often attributed to the male artists who made them famous rather than McCary herself.

Gospel music was another passion of McCary’s. She grew up singing in her local church choir and several of her religious works became standards, covered by numerous choirs and congregations. “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and “In the Garden” are two of her most well-known hymns, though again, McCary did not always receive attribution for them.

In her later years, McCary turned to country and folk styles. Memorable songs like “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” emerged during this period, showcasing her gift for crafting a simple but emotive melody and heartfelt lyrics. While a new generation of singers brought these works to prominence, their provenance was obscured.

McCary’s immense talents as a songwriter were never fully recognized in her own time. Though many of her works became hits, she struggled for mainstream success and financial security. Still, McCary persevered in her craft, leaving behind a rich musical legacy that deserves to be celebrated and preserved. Her prolific catalog stands as a testament to her enduring artistry and spirit.

McCary’s Legacy: An Unheralded Force in Gospel Music

Louise Jean McCary may not be a household name, but her impact on gospel music is undeniable. As a pioneering gospel singer, composer, and teacher, McCary influenced generations of artists through her work at the St. John’s School of Music in Memphis, Tennessee.

McCary began teaching at St. John’s in 1924, where she developed the school’s first gospel choir. Over 41 years, she trained over 10,000 students, many of whom went on to become gospel greats themselves, such as R.H. Harris, J. Robert Bradley, and Clara Ward. Under McCary’s direction, the St. John’s choir gained renown for their emotional, improvisational style.

Though McCary released few commercial recordings herself, her original compositions became gospel standards, including “God Is Still On the Throne” and “He’ll Understand.” Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, and Al Green all covered her songs. McCary even coached a young Elvis Presley, helping him overcome his shyness.

An Unmatched Legacy

Despite her impact, McCary’s contributions have largely been overlooked. While her students went on to fame and prestige, McCary continued teaching at St. John’s for a meager salary. She was unable to copyright most of her compositions, losing out on royalties that could have provided financial security later in life.

Though McCary passed away in poverty and obscurity, her legacy lives on through the thousands of lives she influenced. Her students affectionately called her “Mama Lou” for the compassion and generosity she showed them. She gave selflessly of her time and talent to inspire new generations of gospel artists. The emotional, improvisational style McCary pioneered shaped the course of gospel music in the 20th century and beyond.

Mama Lou may have faded into the background, but her imprint on gospel music stands out in bold. Though fame eluded her, McCary’s true impact was in the lives and music of all those she nurtured along the way. Her unheralded force in gospel music shaped the genre itself, leaving a timeless legacy of song.


And so you see, Louise Jean McCary’s story is one of perseverance in the face of adversity and missed opportunities. Despite the prejudices of her time and place, she pursued her passion for art and achieved a level of mastery and recognition that remains noteworthy today. Though her talent was often overlooked or dismissed due to her gender and race, she persevered. She found ways to learn, grow, create, and even sell her art. Her story serves as an inspiration and a reminder to never give up on your dreams. Talent will out. So keep working at your craft, learn from any rejection, and never stop creating. You never know when the world might finally catch up and recognize you for the artist you are. Just like Louise Jean McCary, stay true to your vision and never stop pursuing your passion. In the end, that is the only path to success.

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