91-year-old organist still making music since the Great Depression

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Wanda Spring City First Baptist Church
Wanda Looney organist at the Spring City First Baptist Church. (Photo by www.newschannel9.com)

A 91-year-old woman in Spring City, Tennessee has been making music at her church since the Great Depression.

On this week’s Pay It Forward, Jessica Harthorn surprises her during practice. Every Wednesday night and twice on Sunday you’ll find Wanda Looney at the organ bench. She’s the only person who’s touched the keys at First Baptist Church in Spring City since 1937.

The sweet sounds of chimes and pitch through the pipes. Organists are rare these days, but Wanda Looney at First Baptist Church in Spring City is a legend. Member Patty Cawood has been listening to her play for two decades. “She’s been a constant force in this church, this community, for many, many years,” said Patty.

Wanda was in 6th grade when she started playing the piano at First Baptist. Then in 1951, the church bought an organ and she was offered six free, professional lessons at an organ studio in Chattanooga. She caught on fast and the rest is history.

“There’s no way of knowing how many brides have walked down the aisle to Wanda playing ‘Here Comes the Bride,’ or how many funerals she’s provided comfort to people,” said Patty.

Every Friday, Wanda comes to the church to practice. We met her great-grand kids in the parking lot excited to hear her play. We followed Patty into the sanctuary, Wanda’s family in tow, and her mouth dropped open in surprise. “On behalf of Newschannel 9 and the McMahan Law Firm we want to Pay It Forward to you, for all of your years of faithful service to this church and this community, because we love you. Ok. Hold out your hand. 1, 2, 3, 4, $500,” surprised Patty.

Wanda’s great-granddaughter rushed to comfort her. Some call the organ a big box of whistles, but for Wanda playing is… “Just like I’m in heaven, because I love doing it,” said Wanda.

Moments later, her son helped her to the bench. “Grab my hymnal there,” said Wanda to her son.  She slipped off her shoes and her pretty pink nails hit the keys. “I feel the lord gave me the talent and I just want to use it for him,” said Wanda. And Wanda says she wants to work for the Lord until the end.

“I pray that I will just go at the organ. Just take my life breath air, because preachers go at the pulpit, why can’t I go at the organ?” said Wanda. Not anytime soon Wanda, because the sounds you make are so sweet.

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