Loretta Manggrum, formerly Loretta Cessor, was born in Gallipolis, Ohio, and learned to play the piano from her mother, a teacher and musician. By age 15, she was supporting the family earning up to $35 a week playing for orchestras and parties. Her mother became ill, so she dropped out of high school to provide for her care.
In 1918, Loretta married the love of her life, William Langston Manggrum. The couple and their children moved to Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and eventually, Cincinnati in 1926, where William worked as a pharmacist and Loretta played the piano to accompany the silent films.
By the mid-1930s, the Manggrums opened a drugstore in Walnut Hills where the whole family worked. In 1945, when children were older and the family drugstore was doing well, Loretta pursued her diploma from Hughes High School at the age of 49.
Manggrum continued her education by spending summers at various music programs. But, when she applied for a summer program at Ohio State University, the dean insisted she enroll in a degree-level course instead. With that encouragement, Manggrum earned her Bachelor of Music degree from the university in 1951.
Two years later, Manggrum became the first African American to earn a degree from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. She graduated at the age of 57 with a Master of Music from the school that years earlier denied her daughter entrance.
Her beloved husband, William, died in 1955. Manggrum sold the drugstore and began a 10-year career teaching music at the Garfield School. She also lent her musical talents to Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, Union Baptist Church, and Gaines United Methodist Church.
At the age of 80, Manggrum returned to CCM to pursue a Ph.D., but mostly to work on her stalled cantata. She died in May 1992 and is buried next to her husband at the Spring Hill Cemetery in Huntington, West Virginia.
In her lifetime, Loretta C. Manggrum (aka L.C. Manggrum) published several works that now reside in the Library of Congress. In 1986, the University of Cincinnati conferred an honorary Doctor of Music upon Manggrum, recognizing her contributions to the field of music and the city of Cincinnati.
The First 28, graciously sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, celebrates Black Cincinnatians who were the first in their fields. Each day during Black History Month, we will celebrate athletes, artists, business leaders, civil rights activists, educators, physicians and politicians.
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