Lois Carrah Tarpley Dunham Forsythe

Photo of Lois Carrah Tarpley Dunham Forsythe
Lois Carrah Tarpley Dunham Forsythe, a pianist who taught lessons for many years in the Pine Bluff School District and surrounding areas, died peacefully surrounded by her children, in Houston, Texas, on May 29, 2017. She was 97. Known for her sensitive style and expression and her ability to play any request from classical to country, she was regarded as one of the finest organists and pianists ever to live in Pine Bluff. "Lois had a greater repertoire of piano pieces than anyone else in Arkansas," said her longtime friend, the late Louise McCown. Lois began her love of the piano at a very young age. Her first cousin, the late Rev. Bruce Hays Price, D.D., wrote in a letter to her, "I recall when you were about five years old, you came home from church and went to the piano and picked out the notes you had heard." By the time she was nine years old, Lois was pianist at her mother's church every Sunday morning. At age 11 she began classical training with Dr. Marcelline Giroir in Pine Bluff, and from there her prolific musical career began. By 1945 Lois was a full-time piano teacher and assistant organist with Edgar Ammons at Trinity Episcopal Church. Lois Carrah Tarpley was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas, on February 16, 1920, and moved to Pine Bluff with her family in 1921. She was the daughter of Thomas A. Tarpley and Sarah McCracken Cloar Tarpley. Her father was a telegraph operator for the Missouri-Pacific Railroad. He played violin at church and the bugle in the Spanish-American War. Her mother was a homemaker and devoted member of Second Baptist Church in Pine Bluff. Lois had two sisters – Ava Cloar Johnson and Margaret Tarpley Garner; four brothers – Ralph Cloar, Lee Cloar, Clyde Cloar, and Elmer Tarpley. Although primarily known as a teacher, Lois also played the piano in local dance bands, popular radio stations, country clubs, and beauty pageants. Whatever the venue, Lois could do it and was always called upon to fit the bill. She was interested – super interested – in all music; it was her life. Her student piano recitals were always fabulous shows, and someone once said that she should sell tickets for reserved seating. Anyone who has ever experienced the sheer joy of learning from one great teacher will know the value of her remarkable talent. Lois moved to Texas in 1969 where she continued teaching piano and organ lessons, and began playing in dinner restaurants for the next thirty years. It was at the Old San Francisco Steak House in Houston where she met Alan Richard Forsythe. They were later married. Her only son, William Louis Dunham Jr., died in 2012. She is survived by her children: Carrah Lee, Margaret Gwyn, Judith Ann, and Jane Elizabeth; seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Beloved by all, her kindness, intelligence, humor, and loyalty will be greatly missed by a rich legacy of family and friends across the nation. A Memorial Service will be held in her home state of Arkansas later in the fall, when the trees are turning and the leaves are falling, marking not an ending but a new beginning of yet another season of this Life on Earth. Rest in Peace, Mama.

Published June 10, 2017

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