Frank Suggs had envisioned being a teacher since he was a teenager. He pursued that dream by studying music education at the University of Arizona as an undergraduate. His interests were both vocal and piano performance. The degree prepared him to teach music for 10 years in the state, with his first job on a Navajo reservation.
“That was the only place black people could teach at that time,” said Suggs, who left the state to pursue graduate studies at the University of Indiana. A graduate faculty member suggested he explore job opportunities at Illinois State University.
Suggs arrived on campus in 1970 and began teaching music education courses in the Department of Music within the College of Fine Arts. The University had just begun efforts to recruit black students, and he was one of few minority faculty members at the time.
“I was asked to put something together for black students,” Suggs recalled, saying he appreciated the opportunity to help build the University’s music education program. He became known locally for directing “Birmingham-A Sing for Peace.”
Beyond forming creative art ensembles, he created African American music history classes that became popular courses. “I worked mainly with undergraduate students, and I enjoyed teaching,” said Suggs, who saw significant growth at the University and within the college during his 30 years at Illinois State. “I’m glad I went the education route. It was a good time, as we always had quality students.”
Suggs retired in 1999 and moved with his wife, Jimella, to Tennessee. He remained active presenting choral music workshops, music industry seminars, and presentations on history represented through music. He worked with the National Association for the Study and Performance of African American Music organization for years, ultimately serving as president.
Another passion Suggs pursued in retirement was sharing his faith, as he engaged in street ministry. Now at age 83, he travels less but still enjoys quality time with his children and numerous grandchildren. Suggs can be reached at email@example.com or by mail at 1201 Mary Jane Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, 38116.