The Story of Luke Peeples
by Jeanne Saussy Wright
Sometimes life gives you a gift that is only representative of a greater gift yet to come. For my sister, Estella Saussy Nussbaum, and me, it all began with a brown paper bag lying on the floor of our mother’s closet: a bag filled with a treasure of music and poetry penned by her late brother, Luke Peeples. Although well known in the town of Bluffton, South Carolina and the surrounding areas, he shunned publicity and did not desire his works published during his lifetime.
Upon his death in 1994, our mother, his last remaining sibling, inherited his legacy. It was her desire to have his music published, but this responsibility would fall on our shoulders upon her death in 1998. As we sorted through the pieces, it was unclear how to present it. The music was all hand written and in many cases in less than desirable condition. Luke was remiss at dating most of his pieces. Few pieces are definitively datable. Sometimes there were several versions of the same piece with only a slight change of a note or two, some were major revisions, and some were unfinished or missing a page. For these reasons, we have chosen to publish his works in two volumes, both arranged roughly by music types and not listed in any order of composition. We have also included two versions of the same song when there were two.
Only when we began to go through old family letters, some going back to the 1930’s, did Luke’s story begin to unfold. We realized that the first thing that needed doing was to tell that story. Putting the various pieces together was like a scavenger hunt. There was no reference book to guide us and most of the people of that period had long passed away. So our journey began, one that would take us throughout the Carolina Lowcountry, searching through various archives, courthouse records and libraries. We interviewed remaining relatives and contemporaries of Luke as well as the even fewer descendants of the Gullahs (east coast descendants of Negro slaves) that so inspired him. Everyone was most generous in sharing his or her stories and old family photographs.
Our book, A Gullah Psalm, The Musical Life and Work of Luke Peeples, was published in 2014 and can be purchased directly from the publisher, LP Collections, LLC, 12 East Jones Street, Savannah, GA 31401, LPcollections12@gmail.com. (See the back covers of Luke’s songbooks for more information. The covers of the songbooks can be viewed by clicking on the “Buy Now” buttons below. No purchase is necessary just to take a look!)
We included copies of many of Luke’s hand written compositions in A Gullah Psalm, but knew that for people to enjoy and play his pieces, they had to be edited and formatted with professional calligraphy before they could be published. Mother’s wish had yet to be fulfilled. Our cousin, John Graves, who had been involved early on in the search for Luke’s music, and like our mother, desperately wanted to see Luke’s music published, undertook this daunting task. He holds degrees in music composition and English. Without his extraordinary talent and understanding of Luke’s music, we faced a daunting task.
Volume One of The Collected Works of Luke Peeples contains Book I: South Carolina Lowcountry Spirituals and Book II: Dolfus’ Lament and Other Songs. The cover art is by Little Rock artist R. S. Perry. The book is available now by clicking on the “Buy Now” button below. Volume One is available on-line at astarfell.com and TheBookPatch.com.
Volume Two, is also available now, and contains Book III: The Piano Music of Luke Peeples and Book IV: Hymns and Choral Works arranged by Luke Peeples. Volume Two is also available at local bookstores and on-line at astarfell.com and TheBookPatch.com. The Tables of Contents can be viewed by clicking on the links below:
The Simplified Accompaniments of the Lowcountry Spirituals of Luke Peeples, edited by J. S. Graves
Some of Luke’s arrangements are somewhat challenging to the average pianist. Because of that I simplified some of them. Here is the Contents page of that book:
More information about the book can be found here. My wife, R. S. Perry, did the artwork in the book. My article, Gullah Gamaliel, is also included in the book. That article can be read in its entirety on graveshouse.org.