Nancy Katherine Sharpe Edison

1937 - 

Nancy Edison, pianist and organist, and her husband, John, string bass player, spent their entire careers teaching music at Blue Mountain Academy in Pennsylvania. Starting in 1959, following their graduation from Atlantic Union College, they taught at the school, founded four years earlier, for 43 years, developing and presiding over a highly regarded music program. 

Nancy was born in North Tonawanda, New York, the only child of Donald and Margaret Sharpe. She began piano lessons at age four and at age eleven and a half gave a full recital from memory that included Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccio and an impromptu by Schubert. Nancy’s mother was an elementary public school teacher who had the good fortune to teach all of music teacher Harvey Walters’ children.  She recently talked about the closeness that developed between the two families and how that directly affected her musical training:

The Walters family lived in nearby Tonawanda, and my mother, inspired by the training the Walters children were receiving and their progress, started me with the best piano teacher she could find and then closely monitored my practice. Sometimes when my friends would come and pound on the door and ask if I could come and play with them, she would say, “No! Go home. She’s practicing!”  My piano teacher was planning on my eventually going to Eastman School of Music.

I played as an accompanist for several of the Walters children, including Alfred, and also for my father when he sang on the radio. During this time my folks joined the church because of the Walters family and the influence of their mother, who was “Auntie Walters” to me, and they decided I should go to Union Springs Academy.  Although I wasn’t initially happy about that because of its limited music opportunities, I was able to find musical outlets by playing on the campus and as an accompanist for a violinist in the town who gave recitals and had a great experience at the academy.

Nancy was a popular student at the academy and worked in the registrar’s office. Following graduation as salutatorian from USA in 1955, she enrolled at AUC as a music major with organ as her performance area, studying with Melvin West. 

She and John Edison, also a music major at AUC, married in August 1958 and later had one child, Jane Margaret (Stevenson). Although Jane was extensively involved in music, playing piano, organ, and cello, she majored in elementary education and now works as an executive consultant internationally. She is primary co-author with Bilal Kaafarafi of the book Breaking Away (How great leaders create innovation that drives sustainable growth and why others fail).    

During their time at BMA Nancy became a popular and inspiring keyboard teacher who always carried an overload, performing regularly as a recitalist in American Guild of Organists events and as a church organist and accompanist both on and off campus. She also chaired the music department for nineteen years.  Many of her students continued their studies in organ or piano as music majors in SDA colleges and universities, with some returning to her for additional instruction following that study.

Nancy pursued additional study in music at Westminster Choir College and Coombs College of Music in Philadelphia. She completed an M.Mus. in organ and piano performance at CCM in 1972.  She received the Alma McKibben Sabbatical Award in 1991, a financial award underwriting continued professional study for the recipient, and the Zapara Excellence in Teaching Award in 1993.

John, a string bass performer, directed the band and orchestra for thirty-one years. He was also credentialed in math and science and taught in these areas during the last seven of those years. In his last twelve years he was officially a full-time science and math teacher but continued teaching the academy string instrument lessons and string ensembles. He was honored with the Alma McKibben Sabbatical Award in 1992.

As the 2002 school year ended, they were both honored for their many contributions to the academy and for their unprecedented record of service during the school's formative years by having the administration building named for them.

They now reside in Marietta, Georgia. Nancy continues to perform and teach.  At the time of her retirement, she was invited to teach piano and organ as an adjunct faculty member at Southern Adventist University and at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University.  She chose the latter and although she enjoyed the experience, found the commuting from Marietta, Georgia, to be too stressful and stopped after two years.

Nancy continues to maintain a private studio where she teaches what would be considered a full load in an academic setting. Additionally, she serves as an organist in Adventist churches and as a substitute organist for a number of churches of different denominations in the Atlanta area. She also substituted when teaching at BMA, but on a more limited basis.

She has been active as a member of the Atlanta Music Teachers Association, serving as its secretary and also as its president for two years, from 2004-2006.

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Sources: Interviews with Nancy and John Edison, November 2013 and in 2002; 1940 U.S. Census, Tree Ancestry.com; Atlantic Union Gleaner, 25 August 1958, 8; personal knowledge.