Robert Noles/Opelika Observer
By Morgan Bryce
Fashion icon Oscar de la Renta, former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and Olympians at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics have all had the opportunity to hear one of the Southeast’s premier solo pianists, Opelika resident Mary Slaton.
Born and raised in Beauregard on Society Hill Road, Slaton said she remembers wanting to learn to play piano when she was five years old.
As she grew up, her love for both music and playing the piano and French horn continued to grow and in her freshman year of high school, she transferred to Tuskegee High to play in the band.
Following her graduation from high school in 1962, she desired to further her music education, and attended the University of Montevallo, where she majored in piano performance, finishing there in 1966. She returned to the area briefly and helped start bands at Beauregard High School and Macon Academy.
Slaton and her family relocated to Memphis in the early 70s. Shortly after the move, she decided to enroll in the master’s degree program at the University of Memphis in music performance. Graduating in 1975, she began playing and performing at various hotels and restaurants across the city.
Three years later, looking to move closer to home and to perhaps find bigger and better opportunities, she decided to move to Atlanta, which would be her home for the next 17 years.
Playing at venues like the Omni and 1848 House, Slaton performed at the 1988 Democratic National Convention and party at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, making for experiences she said she will never forget.
“I enjoyed it … and I loved it. I met a lot of great people and had some really neat experiences playing there,” Slaton said.
In 1995, she returned to the area to be close to her family. For the next 15 years, she still commuted to Atlanta to perform, and continued giving piano lessons.
2011 was a busy year for Slaton, as she took a part-time teaching position teaching music education at Southern Union State Community College, and creating the East Alabama Community Band, an ensemble comprised of musicians from across the Chattahoochee Valley area.
Looking back on her career in music, Slaton said the main thing she got across to her pupils, listeners and fellow musicians is her passion for her craft.
“Music, most of all, makes me think of people and things I did with them, and where I was. And it also goes for performing … you’re making somebody happy through the music you’re playing and they enjoy it,” Slaton said. “I think that’s why I learned to play and why I enjoyed it, but I wanted to share my talent with others … that’s the number-one thing about music to me.”
Slaton no longer teaches at Southern Union, but stays busy keeping up with her two grandchildren, teaching piano lessons and playing French horn in the community band.
She will also be opening for storyteller Rawlins Gilliland in his return trip to Opelika for shows Feb. 9 and 10 and participating in a Hank Williams tribute concert later in the spring.
“I’m going to try to keep playing and doing music for as long as I can,” Slaton said.