Hazel Shanks Hynson (1903–2005)
Hazel Shanks Hynson was a classically trained pianist who served as the choir director at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and taught many musicians in her studio who went on to be well known.
Hazel Shanks was born on August 8, 1903, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Christopher Columbus Shanks, who worked as an insurance auditor, and Luna Craig Shanks; she had one younger brother. She attended private schools, studying music, and she received her bachelor’s degree in music, with a major in piano, from Atlanta University. She later traveled to England to pursue further musical studies at Oberlin College in Ohio and at the University of London. She also studied at the renowned Juilliard School in New York.
In 1940, she married William Edward Hynson, and the couple moved to Little Rock. They had no children, and he died in 1968.
After moving to Little Rock, Hynson joined Mount Zion Baptist Church and served as pianist there for more than a quarter century. She also founded the Hazel Shanks Hynson Music Studio and trained many accomplished musicians, including jazz and classical musician Art Porter Sr. of Little Rock. She served as the pianist for the Arkansas State Baptist Convention for twenty-six years, as pianist for the National Baptist Convention for twenty-seven years, and as director of the Arkansas Baptist College Choir. The college’s multipurpose center was later named in her honor.
In 1990, she received an honorary doctorate from Arkansas Baptist College in recognition of her service. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2004; the program for that year’s induction described Hynson as “a grand lady of grace and elegance, a superb teacher and pianist, arranger, composer, and musician’s musician.” She was a charter member of the Little Rock chapter of The Links, Incorporated, an international volunteer group; the Little Rock chapter was chartered in 1956. She was also a charter member of the Little Rock Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Hynson remained active into her later years, maintaining a driver’s license until 1999. In the spring of 2005, she broke her hip for the second time in four years and never recovered. She died on May 22, 2005, and is buried at Miller Cemetery in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County).
For additional information:
“Black History Month Spotlight: Hazel Shanks Hynson.” Little Rock Culture Vulture, February 7, 2015. https://lrculturevulture.com/2015/02/07/black-history-month-spotlight-hazel-shanks-hynson/ (accessed October 6, 2020).
Obituary of Hazel Shanks Hynson. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 25, 2005, p. 8B.
Woodword, Hillary. “‘Sophisticated’ Lady Was Music Director.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 24, 2005, p. 4B.
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
Last Updated: 10/06/2020