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Whether it's art, literature, bluegrass or blues, Black Kentuckians have had a hand in shaping it. The African American Folklorist explores that history by providing a more personal look at culture. Building upon the existing newspaper and podcast series, The African American Folklorist presents a chance to share lesser known stories of influential figures.

The African American Folklorist: The Gospel Truth

Tonnie Marin

Elder Marilyn Whitlock Hockersmith is a pillar of the Shake Rag community, State Street Baptist Church, and plainly put, the roots of Black Kentucky.

Her story starts with humble beginnings, but as the Bible says, your gift will make room for you, and Elder Hockersmiths gifts have made room for her and all those she’s blessed.

Catching the singing bug at an early age, Elder Hockersmith soon became a protoge of, and group member for, the legendary Shake Rag gospel musician John Edwards, touring internationally. 

As beautiful as a voice she has, Elder Hockersmith believes the best use of her voice is for God and the Church, being one of four women certified at State Street Baptist Church.


With all of her accolades resulting from her gifts given from above, being a testament to the living word is what she finds most important. 


Recently, the African American Folklorist had the opportunity to sit down with Elder Hockersmith to discuss her journey. 


Here’s an excerpt of our interview:


Lamont Jack Pearley: Marilyn Whitlock Hockersmith has been involved in the church, as long as she can remember. Along with church. Singing was also an early part of her life.

Marilyn Whitlock Hockersmith: I used to sing as a little girl, make up songs while I was playing with my sister. I'm from a huge family.

Lamont Jack Pearley:  Did you start singing in a church at a young age?

Marilyn Whtlock Hockersmith: Yes, you know, you go to first grade choir or something like that. And I think I sang in a Sunday school choir  with other little young people in Henderson at Seventh Street Baptist Church. 

Lamont Jack Pearley: What kind of songs were you singing as a gospel artist or in church?Marilyn Whitlock Hockersmith: All! All of them. Anthems, hymns, strumming in the meter songs, meaning acapella without music.  You know, I love the Lord, you heard my great and you know all that and you go back and repeat yourself. All types. I have done them all. In my mind is a melody that God's put inside of me. And so I sing the notes that he puts inside of me, the melody, and then give it a little extra with changing the voice but he rearranges them because I was taught by the best.  When I say taught,  I had the gift, but John Edmunds has helped me to develop that gift that I had.

Lamont Jack Pearley: John Edmonds, Bowling Green's legendary gospel musician who has touched souls globally, assisted in elder Marilyn’s transition to becoming a professional gospel singer.

Marilyn Whitlock Hockersmith: He is the one that took me all over the world. And he's the one that taught me how to develop my voice, how to preserve my vocal cords throughout traveling to 22 countries. That's how I was taught to sing with him. And you had to know how to sustain your vocal cords and suppress them at the proper time, and to keep them well, to stay healed. Because you can easily get hoarse and I had  gotten hoarse one time, and I figured it out. It's from lack of sleep, and a lack of rest. And so when I cough, the cough is too much because you've got, you know, your lungs, got a little bit of infection going on. So I learned how to try to protect my vocal cords. And so I'm sure that's why I can still hit certain notes and keys at my age, my senior age, and I'm grateful for that, I don’t take it for granted.

Lamont Jack Pearley: Elder Marilyn Whitlock Hockermith serves as elder of the State Street Baptist Church here in Bowling Green. She has achieved great feats in music and life. But if you ask her what is truly important, she'd say...

Marilyn Whitlock Hockersmith: Set a character example of how life should be according to what God wants. I love to praise Him. I love to praise His name. I love to pray He's here.


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