CAVE SPRING — An upright piano powerfully resounds with the hit tunes of Elvis, Ray Charles and even a few Christmas carols in the wood-paneled dining room Sunday afternoon of La Cabana.
Behind the ivory keys sits a 73-year-old woman, small in stature at only 4-feet, 5-inches tall — and once known as “Dummy’s little girl.”
After a several-months hiatus, Doris Crowe is back tickling the keys on Friday and Saturday nights at the Mexican restaurant located at 118 Gadsden Road.
Born in Nettleton, Miss., on March 29, 1940, to deaf parents, Crowe said she always had an ear for music. When she was just 21-months-old, her grandmother purchased the youngster her first baby piano and taught her to play the gospel tune, “Jesus Loves Me.”
“We would go to church, and I would listen to what they were playing in church,” said Crowe. “See, Mother and Daddy didn’t have a radio; they didn’t see a need for a radio. She would sing to me, and I would sing and sing and sing. She would say, ‘Doris Mae can sing, I know she can sing.’”
Growing up, Crowe said she would finish her schoolwork and chores, then play the piano into the wee hours of the night. When she got a bit older, she picked cotton to afford half of the cost of her first real piano.
“No one could hear me,” she laughed. “People come up to me now and say, ‘You think you had a normal childhood? Well, no. No child I know could play music all night the way you did.’ But I think that’s how I got so good. I play everything by ear. I never depend on sight because I played in the dark.”
Crowe started playing for her church in Tupelo, Miss., where she also got her first job as a interpreter for the deaf. She even won a local radio contest, where she swears “up and down” she beat out Elvis Presley for first place.
“He was wearing the bluest three-piece suit,” she recalled of the day she met ‘The King’. “And he played ‘black music,’ which didn’t go over very well with the locals. And he came in with this sort of attitude. I was 10 years old, and it really was more of a popularity contest. Everyone in town knew me as ‘Dummy’s little girl.’ They called my Daddy ‘Dummy’ because that’s what people called deaf people back then. I always tell people we both went on to ‘rock’ later. He went on to rock and roll, and I went on to rock babies.”
But Crowe said one of her callings came to her during those days, and she dedicated her life to the deaf community. She’s been an interpreter for nearly 61 years and worked as a video relay interpreter in Chattanooga.
“I was 13 years old when I got my first job at the church signing for the deaf,” Crowe said. “They paid me $20 a month to do it. I’ve been in interpretation my whole life, and came here to Cave Spring because of the School for the Deaf.”
Crowe, the former owner of the Crowe’s Nest boutique in Cave Spring, said she married a deaf man, Billy McDonald, and raised four children — Eddie McDonald, John McDonald, Don McDonald and daughter Judi McDonald. And in 1966 she adopted two more sons, Earl and Jack Sandidge.
But music never left her life.
She had remarried, to Louie Allen Crowe, and was teaching for Floyd College, now Georgia Highlands College, when a friend who worked for the country comedy variety show “Hee Haw” told her about auditions for the show. Crowe got a part and had a short-lived run during the 1970s.
“I was standing on a bale of hay between the Hager twins, singing ‘Company’s Coming,’” laughed Crowe. “I auditioned with a song that I wrote about a cow, and was dressed the part.”
Crowe said while her music career had success, she always felt like home was where she needed to be.
On top of it all, Crowe is also a survivor — she has survived three strokes, hip and knee replacement, breast cancer and a recent bout of skin cancer. Now she worries about losing her sight to macular degeneration.
But besides bopping around her home in downtown Cave Spring or hanging out at some of the local eateries in town, the member of the Georgia Mountain Music Club can be seen playing the piano and organ simultaneously at her church, Cave Spring Church of God — or playing for donations for the Alzheimer’s and breast cancer foundations at La Cabana.
“Moreover, I continue to strive to stay active,” she said. “I may be physically short, but I make concentrated efforts to never be short on ideas or energy.”