New Exhibit Opens Today Celebrating Black History Month

The Sousa Archives exhibit, “Willie Summerville: A Life of Music, Faith, and Service” opens today at the School of Music lobby.  In Kathya Alexander’s 2017 memorial essay to William “Willie” Thomas Summerville (1944-2017), she describes him as Urbana-Champaign-University of Illinois’ unique musical and spiritual force who brought people together through song and service to the community.  She wrote,

Mr. Summerville graduated from the University of Illinois in 1967 with a Master’s degree in music education. He played tuba with the Marching Illini.  His first job was with Champaign Public Schools until 1970 when he became the Choral Music Director of the Middle School 8th Grade Chorus in Urbana Unified Schools.  He was also the Director of the Urbana High School Concert Choir.  He took that choir to Rome to sing at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in 1999.   In 2002, he took the Urbana High School Choir to NYC where they sang at Riverside Church and Carnegie Hall.  He was a founding member of Canaan Missionary Baptist Church and a charter member of the Deacon Board and treasurer of the Canaan Development Foundation…Mr. Summerville was born in Sunshine, Arkansas on August 17, 1944.  He was the son of Moses and Lenora, the middle child of four sisters. He was married to his wife, Valerian Alexander Summerville for 48 years.

Thanks to the generosity of the Summerville family the Willie T. Summerville and Summerville Family Papers are preserved at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music.  This collection and our new exhibit documents Willie’s career as music educator for the Urbana public school system and deacon, treasurer and music minister for the Canaan Baptist Church, and highlights his extraordinary service to our local community through music.  For further information about this new exhibit honoring Black History Month call 217-333-4577 or email

Updated on