Shelley Jackson Denham

by Mike Roberts, Church Historian

Several months ago we celebrated the life of Elinor Artman. In the past year our church also lost its former music director, Shelley Jackson Denham, who passed away on August 31, 2013. Shelley was our music director for several years in the late 1980s just before Elinor Artman took over our pulpit. If her name seems familiar, she is the writer of a number of songs that are in our hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition.

Shelley was a resident of Cincinnati for many years. On a trip to Canada in 1973, she met her future husband Ian. They knew nearly instantly they were a perfect match and were married in his native Bourne, England five months later. They settled in Cincinnati where Shelley was active in the First UU Church, but made frequent contributions to our own music program before becoming director.

For example, on May 18, 1980, she conducted a Spring Musicale at our Salem Acres site. The first half of the program featured classical music while the second half offered show tunes and pop music. Bob and Connie Booth both performed in that musicale and Bob fondly remembers that Shelley had difficulty playing the guitar at the program because she was nearly full term and days away from the birth of one of her three daughters. The program ended with a community singing of “Credo.”

Shelley and Ian left Cincinnati in 1989 for the mountains of western North Carolina where Ian worked at a mountain retreat. He died very suddenly in May of 2013. Shelley maintained her interest and devotion to music in many venues in North Carolina.

Peg Duthie posted the following tribute for Shelley on a blog after her death:

Last summer when I went to the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival, I was captivated by the beautiful woman turning pages for William Ransom. She had silver hair and wide eyes and she was so engaged with the music — not histrionically or showtastically or in any way in the way of the performance, yet vibrantly, fully present.

I was introduced to her at a reception after the concert, but with our first names only, so several minutes went by before the clues added up and I was talking to a woman whose hymns I’d sung so many times. At which point I fear I went into stammering fangirl mode, but she handled that graciously, of course.

Last night at the end of chamber choir rehearsal, I learned that Shelley’s husband had passed away in May and that she died Sunday of a heart attack.

I have Singing the Living Tradition open at the moment to #86:

Spirit of great mystery
hear the still, small voice in me.
Help me live my wordless creed
as I comfort those in need.

Fill me with compassion
be the source of my intuition.
Then, when life in done for me,
let love be my legacy.

~Shelley Jackson Denham, 1987

Image: Shelly Jackson Denham.

Image source: UUA.