From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Elkins, James Lewis

(born: January 17, 1916  -  died: January 20, 1989) Noted music director James L. Elkins was born in Paris, KY, the son of James M. and Cynthia Kennedy Elkins and a brother of Mildred M. Elkins Mott. In the 1920 and the 1930 U.S. Census records, the family was living on Lilleston Avenue with their parents, Will and Amanda Elkins.

James Elkins would leave Paris to attend college, he graduated from Lane College in Jackson, TN. He later  studied music at the University of Belgium in Seige, Belgium, where he earned an American in Voice diploma. He also attended the Chicago Conservatory and the Julliard School of Music in New York City. He was the conductor of the Wings Over Jordan Choir, which sang Negro spirituals, for several years.

Elkins was also a World War II veteran, serving in the U.S. Army overseas from 1943-1945. He returned to the United States in December 1945.

After his military service, Elkins moved to Texas, where he taught music at Paul Quinn College and Carver High School, both in Waco. Starting in 1962, he was a music teacher in the Blackshear Junior-Senior High School in Odessa, TX. In 1973, Elkins visited his hometown of Paris to conduct a recital at the St. Paul United Methodist Church in memory of his mother. He would spend the remainder of his life in Texas, retiring from Hayes Elementary School in 1982 and continuing as a substitute teacher for the Ector County Independent School District.

Elkins was the first African American member of the Ector County Lions Club and a member of the Midland/Odessa Symphony and Chorale. He was also a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.

In 2001 the James Elkins Singers, named in his honor, were formed with 30 alumni members of the Blackshear High School music program; Blackshear High had been an all-black school. The singers performed Negro spirituals in 2004 at the Odessa College Deadrick Auditorium, the group's first Black History Month concert. 

James L. Elkins died at the Lubbock General Hospital  January 1989 from injuries suffered in a house fire. He is buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Odessa.

Sources: Kentucky Birth Index (Ancestry); U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index (Ancestry); "James Elkins to present recital at St. Paul," The Lexington Herald and the Lexington Leader, 8/18/1973, p. 6; Cliff Hamilton, "James Elkins Singers revive Negro spirituals," Odessa American, 2/21/2004, front page; "Overseas veterans return to states," The Lexington Herald, 12/13/1945, p. 17; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File (Ancestry); and "Deaths: James Elkins," Odessa American, 1/23/1989, p. 10.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Bourbon County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Paris, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: St. Paul United Methodist Church (Paris, KY)
NKAA Source: Ancestry (online)
NKAA Source: The Lexington herald (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Odessa American (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Lexington herald and Lexington leader

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Elkins, James Lewis,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed February 21, 2024, https://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/index.php/items/show/300004573.

Last modified: 2023-07-07 16:28:37