Oral History of Kelley Muller-Smith

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Oral History of Kelley Muller-Smith

Alternative Title

Oral History, Kelley Muller-Smith


Oviedo (Fla.)
African Americans--Florida
Elementary schools--United States


An oral history interview of Kelley Muller-Smith, a Sanford native raised in Oviedo and professional singer. The interview was conducted by Dr. Connie Lester and Jessica Oldham over Zoom in Orlando, Florida, on July 28th, 2022. Some of the topics covered include Muller-Smith’s childhood and schooling in Oviedo and Jackson Heights Elementary School, now Jackson Heights Middle School, and the roles of her parents, her father, principal Stanley T. Muller, and her mother, music teacher Mae Frances Muller, in segregated Oviedo-area schools for African American students. Other topics include her memories of daily life at Jackson Heights Elementary School, the instruction of memorable teachers, the role of music in shaping Muller-Smith’s personal and professional life, her experiences traveling with different musical and performing arts groups, and her view on the importance of the future Oviedo Colored Schools Museum.


Oral history interview of Kelley Muller-Smith. Interview conducted by Connie Lester and Jessica Oldham through Zoom on July 28, 2022.

Table Of Contents

0:00:00 Early life and schooling in Oviedo
0:04:52 Segregation in Central Florida public schools
0:08:48 Role of music in personal and professional life
0:12:59 Dedication to Oviedo Colored Schools Museum
0:15:01 Stanley T. Muller and Mae Frances Muller’s legacy


Muller-Smith, Kelley
Lester, Connie
Oldham, Jessica


Muller-Smith, Kelley. Interviewed by Connie Lester and Jessica Oldham, July 28, 2022. Audio record available. <a href="http://riches.cah.ucf.edu/" target="_blank">RICHES</a>, Orlando, Florida.


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Digital transcript of original 19-minutes, and 15-seconds oral history: Muller-Smith, Kelley. Interviewed by Connie Lester and Jessica Oldham, July 28, 2022. Audio record available. RICHES, Orlando, Florida.


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19-minutes, and 15-seconds audio recording
11-page digital transcript




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Jackson Heights Middle School, Oviedo, Florida
Robert Hungerford Preparatory High School, Eatonville, Florida

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History Teacher


Originally created by Kellye Muller-Smith, Connie Lester, and Jessica Oldham and published by <a href="http://riches.cah.ucf.edu/" target="_blank">RICHES</a>.

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Cravero, Geoffrey

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External Reference

Robison Jim. Around Oviedo. Charleston South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. 2012. Accessed November 4, 2022.
The World Outside Reunion. “A Written and Pictorial History of the Oviedo Area Colored Schools, 1890-1967.” RICHES of Central Florida accessed November 4, 2022, https://richesmi.cah.ucf.edu/omeka/items/show/5258.


Today is July the 28 th, uh, 2022. I am Connie Lester. With me is Jessica Oldham
and Kelley Muller-Smith. We are conducting this oral history via Zoom. So, Miss
Muller-Smith, please state your name and tell us a little about where you're from
and what life was like for you growing up.

Okay. My name is Kelley Muller-Smith, as you stated. I'm from Oviedo, Florida.
That's my home. Reared in right there in Oviedo, born in Sanford. Um, life was
absolutely great. We had a great community. We had great schools. Uh, we had
great churches. Uh, it took the village to raise us and I'm so appreciative of that
because it's helped to build me into the person that I am. So, life in Oviedo was
absolutely the best. Did I answer you okay?

Lester So, which schools did you attend in the Oviedo area, and can you talk about
some of your favorite school memories?

Yes, I can. I only attended one school, and that was Jackson Heights Elementary,
now Middle School.1 My favorite memories started in first grade. Um, my
teacher had us to make aprons by hand for our finger-painting class. That was a
big deal. And that also kind of launched my sewing interest which lasted
throughout ha— after high school. Those were just great times. Our teachers
were our parents away from home. I'll put it like that. Some of the other fond
memories: uh, school lunches were always home-cooked meals and they were
the best food on earth. Uh, also, playground time. I—I—I just loved it because we
had all of these playground equipment toys. Merry-go-rounds, swings, see-saws.
You—you just had fun, uh, for the time that we were outside. And then of
course, the music classes with my mom on Fridays. Absolutely amazing. She
taught us basic—uh, basic songs. A lot of patriotic songs. A lot of Christian
songs. And I looked for a picture to show you of her with her elementary school
course. I don't know where it is. But those were great memories. Just absolutely
great. And being at the school with, uh, two of my dad's sisters, my aunts, and
my dad and my mom, it was just like being at home.

So again, it—it—it raised me away from the house. It—it instilled in me the
values of education, of how to treat people. We—we were always taught there's a
way to speak to adults. There's a way to speak to children. And when you are in
the presence of adults, you address them, “yes ma'am,” “no ma'am,” “yes, sir,”
“no, sir.” And I’m seventy-two and I still do that. So, those were great memories
that I have not forgotten.

Did you have a favorite teacher and what qualities did he or she bring to the

Yes. My first-grade teacher and then my seventh-grade teacher, uh, Miss
Houston [laughs]. She was amazing. Uh, she instilled in us the importance—you
had to do all of your work in the classroom. All of your work. Uh, away from
school, your homework had to be turned in. There were no excuses. Uh, and then
of course, the music was first and foremost. I—I—I just love music. Um, but she
would always demonstrate to us. We—we never misunderstood how she wanted
the work done because she would always give a demonstration. If we were
doing, uh, a history lesson, then she would say, “You have to get an
encyclopedia. You have to look up the subject. You have to read it and write
down the important facts.” So there were no excuses. And that kind of
instruction just carried over throughout my life. If you got to do it, do it right,
and do it well. Yes. Yes.

Central Florida schools remained segregated long after Brown v. Board decision.
What was the first grade year that you attended a desegregated school and could
you share some of your memories of that experience?

Yes. I was fortunate enough to start school at five years old. 1955. Uh, the law in
Florida stated then that if you would turn six by the end of that year, then you
could start school at age five, which I did. Um, I'm sorry, would you repeat your
question [laughs]?

Sure. Um, what were—what was the first grade year that you…

Oh. Okay.

…desegregated school and could you share some of your memories?

Absolutely. Yes. It was first grade. Uh, 1955. I remember it well. Again, that
teacher, and I can't call her name, uh, she was just so interested in all of us. She
would find ways to help us better that gift that each student had, which I
thought was amazing. Although the classes were not—the class was not very
large, but she somehow knew us individually, not just as a student in her class.
But she cared enough to find that little special something that would work for
me and work for my classmates. And we just had a great time and we learned.
We not only had fun, but—math was fun, which was not my favorite subject. But
we—we learned the adding and subtraction and multiplication. And it was fun.
She always made everything fun. But yeah, my—my first year was first grade,
uh, and in 1955 there at Jackson Heights Elementary.

Okay. Was that an—an—an integrated school or was it…

No, it was not. Uh, in fact, integration did not happen until after I graduated
eighth grade. The school went from first through eighth grade.


And, um, it came—that—that's another story I'd like to share later. But I went
from first to eighth grade in a, uh, segregated school. My dad’s school.



Was that a difficult transition for you?

No, because—no, it wasn't, actually. Because when I finished eighth grade, I
attended Orange County schools. I lived in Orange County during the week so
that I could attend Hungerford High. And that was, uh, segregated as well. So
the—the—the integration didn't come about until after I graduated in ’67. It was
slowly opening in Oviedo. Um, I remember my dad had a very good relationship
with, uh, Oviedo Elementary. Yes. Oviedo Elementary. I can't call his name
now, but he was a man that everyone knew. And my father made it his
business—being an educator, he made it his business to make sure that there was
some kind of rapport. But, um, you know, it's interesting because, although I
grew up in a segregated environment, when I did finish high school, there was
no adjustment for me. Because I didn't—I was not taught one race was better
than the other. We were all people, and we all—though we were separated, we
were still God's people and He didn't make any mistakes. So you got along with
whomever you were faced with. And the transition for me was easy. Yes.

It seems that music has played a significant role in your life. And how did
Oviedo schools foster your musical talent and what other influences shaped your
musical education?

Okay. It was my mom. I grew up in a home with music. My family, cousins, I
didn't have sisters and brothers at that time. My family was all just music. Uh,
we always sang around the piano. My mother played for both my dad's church
and our church. She would always—uh, we had many what we call Easter
Sunrise services there on one of the lakes there in Oviedo. And she was over that,
for many, many years. Anything music in the community, it was Mae Frances
Muller, my mother. Um, so, um, studying under her—started piano at six years
old, and then in seventh grade she found a teacher for me in Orlando. So off we
went every weekend to Orlando to take my piano lesson. So, it was always
music. Um, it really, really made my life a lot easier because I just love it. When I
finished high school, I went to Bethune-Cookman and sang in the famous
Bethune-Cookman chorale at that time and then went to Peabody Conservatory
of Music, where I majored as a vocal major. So—and I can't tell you how much
music really, really means to me and inspires me. I've had the blessed
opportunity to sing with the Memphis Symphony Chorus8 since 2004. Um, it's
what I do. It's who I am [laughs]. Yes.

Well, can you tell us how, um—how this shaped your career opportunities and…
Muller-Smith Yes. Yes, I can. When I got to Peabody that summer with my mom and her best
friend, I was too late to audition for Peabody, so I stayed there and studied at the
preparatory department of the conservatory and then I auditioned a year later,
got accepted, studied, studied, studied, and was out for Christmas. And my choir
director called me and said, “So and so was looking for a singer. He needs one
mezzo-soprano and I told him about you, but you have to be in New York
tomorrow.” I said, “Okay.” And I did audition and that's how my career started
as a professional singer. Did that for over ten years with different companies.
Um, it just—the music just shaped me and I knew that's what I wanted to do. So I
studied as best I could, and it just opened up the doors for singing for me.

So, have you performed with, uh—with groups that, uh, people who are
listening to this oral history might recognize?

Yes. I did a Broadway show on the road for nine months with Eartha Kitt. It was
called Timbuktu!. That was amazing. I learned a lot. It was fun. It was hard
work. We were on a plane on an average of every two weeks flying to the next
city. So that was a great experience. There was also Disney World. I was one of
the, uh, second—the second group, of Kids of the Kingdom. That's me. I don't
know if you can see it, but there I am. Okay. That was three years. The Norman
Luboff Choir, Robert De Cormier Singers. Uh, I did, uh, Hello Dolly! there—
right there in Orlando at Once Upon a Stage Dinner Theater. That was great.
Um, so it's—it’s been a journey. I'm just thankful for the opportunity that God
has given me to do what I love the best. Yeah, it's been great. It's been great.

The oral history that you're giving us today will be archived in the Oviedo
Colored Schools Museum.


What are your hopes for that museum?

First of all, I want to say hats off to our President of the Board, uh, Judith Smith.
She was given the vision to open this museum. And her goal, and our goal as
board members, is to better educate the Oviedo and surrounding communities
and, of course, anyone that would eventually visit the museum to learn the truth
about the Black history of the educational system in our area. We've got a whole
new group of people. They're younger and they have no idea—I've been told
many times when I come home that a lot of people think Jackson Heights
Elementary was always integrated. I mean Jackson Heights Middle School—that
it's always been there. It's always been i—it's, uh, uh, integrated. They don't
know about Oviedo Colored School and then Jackson Heights Elementary
School. They have no clue. So, our goal is to better educate the community, the
surrounding areas, so that they can just learn the truth. Uh, there's just so much
history in that area and I'm proud to be able to say that it's my home. But there's
a lot of history that has just never been known, uh, by this younger generation.
And our goal is to get that information out there, so anyone that wants to can
really know and learn the truth about the Black educational history of the Oviedo
Colored Schools and that area.

Well, is there anything else you would like to add or expand on or any…

I would. I want to show you another picture. This is the only principal and his
wife, the music teacher, of the Jackson Heights Elementary School. He was
there—I don't even have the years because I was so little. But, again, I started in
’55. And shortly after I graduated, he—huh. Let me share this because I think
you need to know. My dad was in a meeting in Tallahassee. Uh, a state education
meeting. And he came home. His favorite thing to do was to get the paper and
read the news. And in the Sanford Herald, there was an announcement that
Jackson Heights Elementary School would be turned into Jackson Heights
Middle School the following year. That's how he learned that he would not be
the principal anymore of Jackson Heights. Isn’t that something? They gave him a
position at the school board where he ended up working for a few years before
he passed away. It broke—it broke his heart and broke our hearts, because I
thought, “School board. You can't tell him? Write a letter? Make a phone call?”
He read in the paper. I was sitting right there with him when it happened. So, I—
I think those kinds of things need to be known because he was a great man. He—
he believed in education of all people. He inspired a lot of young men and
women. He especially believed in men being men, uh, dressing properly, taking
their hats off when they're in the presence of a female or inside a building. You
just don't carry yourself any kind of way.

And he was able to, as I said, inspire a lot of people. I remember when Hurricane
Donna came through our front yard. And he got out in that storm, went to the
school, Jackson Heights, and opened it so that the people that didn't have
adequate homes to live in during a storm could have somewhere to go. Because
no one thought of us. But he is hardly known today. So that's something else that
the museum is looking forward to try and make known.

Well, to make them better known, will you say your parents’ names?

Yes, I will. Stanley T. Muller. They called him Professor Muller. And May
Francis Muller. My mother had seven schools when she started. She was called
an “itinerant music teacher” in Seminole County. She had seven schools in one
week. That's how she started. And she did it gladly. It's—it's—it's been a journey,
but I'm thankful that—let me say this. I'm so thankful for your organization and
what you all are doing to help us. This is phenomenal. And we won't stop until
the dream has been completed. It’s ongoing. We want everyone to know the
truth about the Oviedo Colored Schools of our area. Thank you for what you’re
doing. Thank you.

This has been an oral history with Kelley Muller-Smith, conducted on July 28th ,
2022, through Zoom, by Connie Lester and Jessica Oldham.


Muller-Smith, Kelley, Lester, Connie, and Oldham, Jessica, “Oral History of Kelley Muller-Smith,” RICHES, accessed May 30, 2024, https://richesmi.cah.ucf.edu/omeka/items/show/11213.