Elsie Vere Long Watt
1904 - 1995
Elsie Watt was an accomplished marimba player and pianist. Although by training a nurse, she gravitated to music in each of the two academies where she initially worked and later became widely known as a marimba soloist.
Elsie was born in Arkansas, the older of two daughters born to Charles H. and Lavinia Null Long. Nothing is known of her musical training; the first record of her involvement is her being in charge of music at Plainview Academy, in South Dakota. When she and her husband, Alfred Laverne Watt, were hired to work at PA in 1929, she was to serve as the school nurse and he as the science and printing teacher.
By the time they left PA twelve years later, she was in charge of what was regarded as an active and successful music department that included a choir and orchestra. In 1941 they accepted similar positions at Indiana Academy, where they worked for the next three years. In that short time it was noted in the Lake Union Herald that the music department had "been materially benefited because of her efficient leadership."
In 1944 the Watts traveled to South Africa to teach at Helderberg College. By this time she had acquired a reputation as a skilled marimba player as well as pianist and immediately started to work in the music department. Even though the marimba has its roots in the continent of Africa, at that time it was rarely played in South Africa.
In 1950 the HC A Cappella choir took an extended tour throughout South Africa. Related smaller groups from within the choir sang, and Watt performed hymns on the marimba as features within a program that created a sensation wherever it was presented. Audiences were impressed with the quality of the singing and enchanted by the sounds of the marimba. Her performances on that tour and elsewhere are now credited with popularizing the instrument in that country.
The Watts returned to the U.S. in 1952 so that he could complete a master's degree. They lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, where they had both attended Union College as undergraduates. Following completion of his master's degree in physics at the University of Nebraska in 1954, they returned to South Africa, where they taught until 1959.
Upon their return to the U.S. in January 1960, he taught briefly as a temporary teacher in physics at UC before accepting a permanent position at Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University, in the autumn of 1960. They would reside in Collegedale, Tennessee, until he retired. Following his death in 1980, she would eventually move to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where she died in 2004 at age 91. She is buried in Collegedale next to her husband.
Sources: 1910, 1920, 1930 U.S. Federal Census Records; Central Union Reaper, 30 March 1937; Lake Union Herald, 23 May 1944; Southern African Division Outlook, 23 July 1945, 4; 1 December 47, 3; 15 January 49, 2; 15 July 1950, 2; Social Security Death Index; North Carolina Death Records.