Portia T. Bailey-Beal, a music teacher and retired music supervisor for Chicago Public Schools, sat down at the piano while celebrating her 100th birthday and hammered out a rousing rendition of the DuSable High School fight song.
“Even as an older woman, her ear was incredible,” said Kermit DeLashment, the current director of music at historic Quinn Chapel AME Church, who was at that birthday party. “I’d be blessed to make it into my later years with half of what Portia had going on musically, or, for that matter, in every other way.”
Mrs. Bailey-Beal, 101,who for many years was the director of music at Quinn Chapel, died of natural causes Wednesday, April 2, at Arden Court, a senior living facility in South Holland.
Born Portia Thomas in Hawkinsville, Ga., Mrs. Bailey-Beal was the eldest of seven children born to a congregational pastor and his wife, both of whom had college degrees and stressed education.
She graduated from Talladega College in Alabama in 1932 with a major in music and a minor in French. At her mother’s insistence, she went on to receive a master’s degree in music from Columbia University in New York in 1938.
“Back then, it wasn’t always looked favorably upon women to go to college,” said her daughter Nora Bailey. “But she didn’t care. She wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of her receiving those degrees.”
Mrs. Bailey-Beal’s professional career began in the South, where she taught music at Dorchester Academy in Georgia and Ingleside-Fee Institute in Virginia, and later at her alma mater, Talladega College.
In 1945 she married the Rev. A. Leon Bailey of Chicago, who later became pastor of Quinn Chapel AME Church at 2401 S. Wabash Ave., the city’s oldest African-American church.
After moving with her husband to Chicago, Mrs. Bailey-Beal began working for Chicago Public Schools on the South Side. She taught at Medill and Riis elementary schools before joining the faculty and becoming the choir director at DuSable, a school long known for its music program.
The DuSable Choir received recognition and awards under her leadership, and in 1963 she was promoted to music supervisor with CPS and was put in charge of the music curriculum at several South Side high schools. She retired in 1979.
“She was a soft-spoken and self-effacing individual,” her daughter said. “But if you ever saw her directing a choir, you’d think she was Napoleon.”
Mrs. Bailey-Beal, who was a church organist from her youth on and composed civic and spiritual music, was an organist and a recital pianist, as well as a professional accompanist. She was the accompanist for the late Willie Brown, a bass-baritone and the first full-time African-American soloist with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
“She worked with some of the best vocalists on the South Side,” her daughter said.
Mrs. Bailey-Beal was active in the AME Church on regional and national levels and was president of the AME Chicago Conference Branch of the Missionary Society. In 1974, and again in 1986, she was appointed episcopal supervisor.
She also traveled the world through her work for the church, visiting Ireland, Israel, Singapore and Brazil. She lived for a month in Oxford, England, with her daughter Nora, who was studying violin there.
Her husband, the Rev. Bailey, died in 1976. Mrs. Bailey-Beal married Levi Beal in 1985. He died in 1987.
Mrs. Bailey-Beal also is survived by another daughter, Andrea, and a sister, Frances Carol Thomas-Peden.
Services were held.