When the piano player didn’t show up to a Christmas Day funeral at Grassy Creek Baptist Church in 1945, 9-year-old Emaline Cockerham volunteered to play.
“They asked me what I could play, and I told them I could play anything they could sing. They paid me a nickel,” Cockerham said with a laugh. “I could’ve been Liberace if I had practiced.”
After showing her piano talents, Cockerham started playing piano for local gospel quartets including a North Wilkesboro quartet that had a weekly radio program.
“They would pick me up every Sunday morning before church and I would play, then I would go to church and play the piano,” she said.
Musical talent came naturally for Cockerham. She continued playing for quartets through high school, sang and planned wedding for 40 years, and played the organ when the Messiah was performed at Dixon Auditorium.
“I guess I’ve always liked to show off,” she said.
Her love for music got her involved in Elkin’s Summer Theater, now Foothills Theater. She played Aunt Eller in “Oklahoma,” Lillian Gilbreth in “Cheaper By the Dozen,” Mrs. Pardue in “Music Man” and Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun,” which Foothills Theater is performing this summer 40 years later.
“We had so much fun and played lots of jokes during ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’” said said. “At one point, Annie is supposed to shoot a bird out of the air. The prop bird fell and its head popped off! The little girl who was supposed to pick it up and bring it to me, look at me like I had really shot the bird.”
In a 1972 issue of The Tribune, the headline about “Annie Get You Gun” said Cockerham “stole the show.”
“My dream is to hopefully get to act on stage again, especially at the Reeves. I’m not someone who is going to pretend they are young, though,” she laughed. “I’ll take a show with an older role like ‘Arsenic and Old Lace.’”
Cockerham also helped others with their musical talents while assisting with Elkin beauty pageants, and she even helped one girl get to Nashville.
“One girl had a great country singing voice, but didn’t have the money for a dress. I worked with her on her talent, and we got her a dress and she ended up being the Grand Marshall of the Elkin parade,” she said. “I had three songs published for her, and we were even in the Nashville paper.”
Aside from music and performing, another passion of Cockerham’s was her work at Chatham Manufacturing Company, where she worked from 1953 to 1996.
She started at Chatham when she was 17 after marrying her high school sweetheart, Rex Cockerham, who also worked at Chatham.
“Rex and I met in a Spanish class and he was my dancing partner,” she said. “I also sang. I guess he liked the way I hit the high notes.”
They were married for 50 years and had one daughter, Darelena.
Starting at Chatham in personnel, she worked her way up to first lady department head for the blanket order processing department.
“I loved going to work. Rex and I would leave the house at 7 a.m. when we wouldn’t have to be at work until 8:30,” she said. “Sometimes I’d go into work at midnight just to see if there was paper work so we could get more blankets out the door.”
Chatham also had a choir, which Cockerham was asked to direct. She was the Chatham choir director for 30 years.
Now, Cockerham stays young by playing with her great niece, Jessica. She says she’s made lots of friends at the middle school. Cockerham picks up her niece and they will all ride to Royall’s to eat potato chips and joke.
“I’ve had a lot of fun days. I never have missed day or school,” she said. “I don’t like missing out on things.”
Full name: Emaline Cockerham
Favorite food: anything sweet
Favorite pastime: Playing with her great niece, Jessica, and singing and playing the piano
Favorite Sports teams: Yankees, Patriots and the Panthers
Church: Elkin First Methodist
Family: Daughter, Darlena
City born in: Elkin
Reach Jessica Pickens at 835-1513 ext. 18 or email@example.com.