From the early 20th century into the 1960s, one music teacher in North Omaha stood above all others. Her influence guided more than one generation, and her impact stays in peoples’ minds today. This is a biography of Florentine Pinkston.
“Nebraska’s foremost Negro teacher of piano and voice”—Federal Writers’ Project (1939)
Long before she passed away in 1966, Florentine “Flora” Frances Pinkston Mitchell (1887-1966) was widely recognized as the most popular and longstanding music teacher in Omaha.
Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1887, her family moved to Omaha in 1906. After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1916, Flora premiered in Omaha. In 1917, the Omaha Monitor announced, “She will endeavor to render a program of which members especially of her race can be proud.” Radical Black activist George Wells Parker spoke at her premier event, and she was frequently associated with Dan Desdunes as well. For several decades, Mrs. Pinkston’s school was noted for successfully teaching both Black and white students together. This was exceptional in Omaha’s deeply segregated society.
Flora married Jack Pinkston, and later went to Paris to continue her study at the Paris Conservatoire with Isador Philipp (1863-1958).
Jack Pinkston died suddenly while Flora was in Paris, causing her to return. When she returned to North Omaha, she started her 60-plus year career in music education. In 1922, she opened the Mrs. Jack Pinkston School of Music, later simply called the Pinkston School of Music.
Mrs. Pinkston featured instruction in voice and piano, as well as several other instruments. Her advertisements said she taught theory and harmony as well. Her motto reportedly was, “Help me and I will help you.”
In a 1925 musicale, her students performed on clarinet and violin, as well as whistling, singing, and piano performances. The students’ performances happened in a variety of locations, including the Pinkston family home at 2415 N. 22nd Street; St. John’s AME Church; Hillside Presbyterian Church; Zion Baptist Church; the Tech High Auditorium; and several other locations.
Mrs. Pinkston never had children of her own, but raised her niece, Florentine Crawford Williams.
In addition to her work as a music teacher, Mrs. Pinkston also served as the music director at St. Philips Episcopal Church, the choir director at Pilgrim Baptist Church, and the director of the Young People’s Chorus of Omaha, among other roles. She was widely regarded for the influence she had on Omaha’s classical music culture, leading many people into careers in music and musical education.
In 1941, the Omaha Star declared, “Too much praise cannot be given to Mrs. Pinkston, who is one of Omaha’s most outstanding teachers of music.”
In addition to teaching more than a thousands students across six decades, she was honored by the Omaha Urban League, the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, and the Christ Child Society for her contributions to the community. A memorial was created after she passed called the Florentine Pinkston Scholarship Fund.
When she died in 1966, Flora Pinkston’s funeral was at St. Philip’s, and she was buried beside Jack Pinkston at Forest Lawn. Today, there are no memorials to Mrs. Pinkston or the Pinkston School of Music.
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