category: Faculty Emeriti - In Honor Of

Carolyn Billings

Professor Emerita of Music

After Dr. Carolyn Billings (1946-) was born, her father gave her a piggy bank to save money for a piano. She started taking piano lessons in the first grade and soon had her own instrument. 

“When I was in second grade I decided I wanted to be a piano teacher when I grew up,” Billings shared. “And I never changed my mind.” 

Billings grew up in North Wilkesboro, N.C., and she graduated from Wilkes Central High School. While earning her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance at Salem College in Winston-Salem (N.C.) she spent time as an accompanist for modern dance classes, which helped her make connections that led her to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana to complete her Master of Music in Piano Performance in 1970. 

She then worked as a piano instructor at the Fine Arts Center of Clinton, Ill., and later as an instructor who taught piano, music theory and humanities at Ottumwa Heights College in Ottumwa, Iowa. 

After she was enrolled for several years in the Doctor of Musical Arts degree program at the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC), she learned of a job opening back in her home state of North Carolina. 

Despite discovering that the deadline had passed to apply for the position as assistant professor of music at Gardner-Webb, she contacted George Cribb—then the chair of the music department and now professor emeritus of music—to share her interest in the position. After interviewing and playing a recital in the school’s chapel, Billings was offered the job and joined Gardner-Webb in 1979. 

Following the completion of her doctorate at UMKC in 1983, she was promoted to associate professor of music at Gardner-Webb, and she later became a professor of music. 

Billings served Gardner-Webb a total of 35 years before retiring in 2014. “I’d like to be remembered as a teacher who inspired students to strive to do more than they thought they could do,” she offered. 

Billings received the Fleming-White Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1999, and she served as the vice chair of the Gardner-Webb faculty from 2001-2003. 

In her retirement, she continues to live in Boiling Springs. She enjoys playing the piano, teaching young piano students at her home, catching up on home projects and finding more time to go on hikes. 

  Sources: Personal Interview and GWU Files, September 2015 

  – Matthew Tessnear 

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