UPDATED: Local choral legend dies at 72

UPDATED: Local choral legend dies at 72

New at 3:09 p.m. Wednesday:

A former student of Willie Summerville is remembering him as someone who pushed young people to succeed and wore his faith on his sleeve.

Summerville died Tuesday night at age 72. He was a longtime music teacher in Champaign and Urbana schools and at the University of Illinois, and had been choirmaster at Champaign's Saint Luke Christian Methodist Episcopal Church for more than 50 years.

Urbana high school graduate and former Miss America Erika Harold said Summerville treated everyone with dignity.

Harold added that Summerville's choirs were always racially diverse, and his personality held the group together.

— Tim Ditman


Original story, published 12:33 a.m. Wednesday:

URBANA — Willie T. Summerville, a local legend in the choral music world, longtime music teacher in Champaign and Urbana schools and at the University of Illinois and choirmaster at Champaign's St. Luke Christian Methodist Episcopal Church for more than 50 years, died Tuesday night. He was 72.

Summerville's death was confirmed by his son, also Willie, who wrote in a Facebook post: "This is sudden. My siblings and I ask for a moment to breathe before we share more information. I'm flying home as I type. I solicit your prayers for safe travel."

The younger Summerville is based in the Los Angeles area.

Besides more than a half-century leading the choir at St. Luke's, Mr. Summerville also served as director of a host of area choirs, including the Canaan Baptist Church adult choir; the community choirs for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration and annual holiday "Messiah" performances; the Champaign-Urbana Community Choir; and the choir of the African American Studies program at the UI, where he served as outreach coordinator and taught classes on African-American and European sacred music. He also gave private lessons in voice and piano to scores of students.

Mr. Summerville came to Champaign in the mid-1960s to play tuba with the Marching Illini and earn his master's degree in music education at the UI. From 1967 to his retirement in 2005, he taught at Champaign's Robeson, Marquette and Bottenfield elementaries and Urbana's former Brookens Junior High, Urbana Junior High and Urbana High School. He then began teaching classes at the UI.

Mr. Summerville also volunteered for a host of area organizations and was a member of several service organizations.

His wife of 48 years, Valerian, died in 2014. He is survived by sons Derrick of Atlanta and Willie M.; daughter Shandra of Urbana; and a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Condolences were pouring in late Tuesday night after the news of his death broke. His son's Facebook post had more than 300 comments and had been shared by 50 people after only a couple hours.

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Esteve wrote on March 08, 2017 at 2:03 am

Mr Summerville taught me music at Robeson School, 1968/69, when he was a young man. He was loved by all the pupils. He allowed all us budding musicians to perform before the class, whenever we wanted. Sometimes the same pieces, over and over. I never forgot that, and told him so much later.

fortherecord wrote on March 08, 2017 at 6:03 pm

While I didnt really know Willie personally, he has frequented my office over the years and I've had the pleasure of shaking his hand. He lit up the room. He would walk around and spread joy to anyone he could find. What a loss this commnuity has taken. Rest in peace Mr. Summerville. You will be missed.