Laura Ann Warner was one of the most influential music teachers in the Tri-Cities arts community during the last 50 years. She was a wife, a mother and a teacher; an award winner, a mentor and a friend; an advocate and a donor of the arts, especially music. In memory of her steadfast support of the Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy, a new scholarship is being established in her memory.
As the wife of John Warner and mother ofthree children - John Warner, Susan Bechdel and the late Janie Warner,Laura Ann began her 50-year career as a dynamic musical force in the Tri-Cities by serving as a music teacher.From the first classes she taught at Fairmont Elementary School in Bristol, Tennessee, to her retirement from the Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy's board, Laura Ann led with enthusiasm and aplomb.She earned the Teacher of the Year Award from the local Bristol, Tennessee School System in 1988, then moved up to the Teacher of the Year Award for the First Tennessee District, and finally, “in recognition of this teacher’s superior skill and dedication to improving the quality of teaching and learning in Tennessee,” she received recognition as a finalist at the state level.
Warner was also a servant of the church and society. At First Presbyterian Church, Bristol, she served many years as organist while her husbandwas the church's choir director. With tireless energy she found time to be an active member of the Junior League, the Blue Stocking Club and the Women's History Club. She was an active member of The Bristol Music Club, serving as its president and secretary, and was a member and secretary of The Paramount Chamber Players’ Board of Directors.
Because of her indomitable spirit, the development of music in the Tri-Cities made a quantum leap in the 1990s. In fact, theMountain Empire Children's Choral Academy (MECCA) can thank Laura Ann Warner for keeping the dream of a professional, regional children's choir from an early demise. When founder Dr. Carl King was unable to continue directing the East Tennessee Children's Choir, the first of the MECCA choirs and originally for fourth through seventh grade, the ETCC Board was prepared to discontinue the program. As board chair, Warner continued to search, and in 1994 she brought Beth P. McCoy on board as artistic director. Warner served alongside McCoy as the ETCC’s accompanist, publicity chair, activities coordinator, disciplinarian, parent coordinator and assistant to the director, i.e., doing everything possible to help the young organization restart and grow into the full program that MECCA is today, serving talented singers from second to 12th grades. McCoy often said she could not have developed the program into MECCA if it had not been for L.A.W. Choir members soon came to know her as "THE LAW," and McCoy sometimes had to call on "THE LAW" when they talked too much. (Warner claimed it was because McCoy asked them questions.) After Warner fully retired, it took several people to fill her multiple duties. Still Warner continued to support the MECCA program with her presence at concerts and her donations to this non-profit program.
Alumni of the MECCA program sang high praise of Warner when she won the AAME Arts Achievement Award in 2018: Sam Crawford said, “She was a focused and talented individual who possessed extraordinary musical talent as well as a special gift for communicating with young people.”
Craig Combs said, “Without exception, every time I have ever encountered her, whether as a teacher, an audience member, a board member, or as a friend and confidant, Laura Ann has been a positive, warm and loving support and influence. She is not one who seeks center stage; rather she has a quiet yet principled approach to identifying and championing young talent.”
John Grothaus said, “Laura Ann Warner’s example shaped my lifelong commitment to music and the arts. While I enjoyed performing through high school and college, I am also a committed volunteer, board member, and financial supporter of arts programs —- with a particular eye toward providing musical education and opportunities to young people. Laura Ann demonstrated that love of music means sharing it with others. My fellow ETCC alumni and I will be forever grateful for her example to provide those opportunities for future generations.”
Because of Laura Ann Warner's passion for MECCA, Artistic Director Jane DeLoach Morison has announced a scholarship is being created in Laura Ann’s memory so that qualified students can receive tuition assistance. According to MECCA's Administrative Assistant, Dawn Lugo, some donations to fund this scholarship have already been received. Anyone wanting to donate in memory of Laura Ann Warner can mail their donation to MECCA, P.O. Box 3021, Bristol, TN 37625. MECCA is a 501(c)(3) organization. It is possible to donate to MECCA’s general fund as well. Undesignated donations help MECCA with general expenses, such as the purchase of choral music.