James V. Cockerham

The voice inside my head screams again. It is invisible, yet real. The haunting feeling inside pulls me deeper into an illusionary state of being where reality and fiction wrestle with each other. I look out of my window and watch the trees dance with the wind. It is a new day 

bringing with it memories, music, and dreams of success.


Cockerham Family
The composer James V. Cockerham as a baby on his mother’s lap in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, 1948.

Memories of an excited toddler sitting on his aunt’s lap as he plays the piano. A little boy standing on his tiptoes, reaching as high as he can, to touch the notes on the same piano.

Daddy watches Westerns on TV. He yells from the next room, “James Vinson, get off the piano making all that noise.” Later, as he begins to recognize melodies being played, he now yells from the next room, “James Vinson, shut the door, making all that noise.” The door closes and the room becomes quiet. A chord is played on the piano. The sound created by holding down the sustain pedal pulls me into the piano and soon, the sound fades to silence. Music has captured another soul.


Daddy died, silence screamed, but no tears would fall. Cerebral hemorrhage was the cause, “He won’t be coming home!” Too young to understand what had just happened, there I stand, looking out of the window, listening to the rain. 


My cousins gave me their beginner piano books and I taught myself to read the music.


There was no money for piano lessons. Mom called our bills “done’s” because they were so far past due. It took months to pay for a fifteen dollar clarinet,  purchased from our neighbor,  so I could participate in the Elementary School band. A third-grader playing, “Going Home” by Antonin Dvorak on his new clarinet realizes music can be felt. 





Playing piano for the Vacation Bible School choir led a seventh-grader to be invited to play for a church choir.  It was a new experience. The pastor said, “Son, you need the church and the church needs you.” Playing the piano became a way of life. 


My major was Sociology at Livingstone College. Songwriting began when my Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. big brother told me to write a song. However, six albums, five CDs, and four musical stage productions do not stop the voice inside my head. It amplifies and won’t leave. My dreams have become nightmares. Voices taunt me. ”You are too old to experience a successful music career.” “Most musicians, your age, are retiring. You will never achieve success. You are too old.” Thoughts have become caught in an infinity loop. Soon, my son enters the room.


“If you love what you are doing, keep doing what you love.” 

He inquires, “The look on your face says, you have something on your mind. What is it?” I confess that my mind was overwhelmed by thoughts that success may never come. He asked, “What is success to you?” I responded, “Having number one songs on the Billboard charts, winning Grammy and Stellar Awards, placing music in Broadway shows, etc.”  He smiled and asked, “Would you consider Bob Marley to be a successful musician?” Of course, I responded. He continued. Are you aware that, during his lifetime, he was never nominated for, nor received, a Grammy Award? None of his songs were in movies or in Broadway shows? He left the room. A thunderbolt struck the voice inside my head. The voice began to speak, but this time the words changed. I heard, “Never give up on your dreams.”  Do not try to measure your success by age, money, nor how well you are known in your circles. The voice is now speaking louder than before.


A call was received from DJs in New Zealand and Chicago. They are playing my music from an album that is over 43 years old. I received a video of people dancing to, “Everybody Ought to Praise His Name.”  A gospel jazz song featuring children singing and instrumental solos by piano, bass, and drums. Some say it is music that was before its time.


So, perhaps the voice is right. I love what I am doing and will never give up on my dreams!