Peggy Shivers lives in my Mom’s neighborhood—that’s how I first met her. The day I first encountered her, she asked me how much I loved Colorado Springs. Admittedly, the question caught me off guard; it’s not the kind of question most people ask on first acquaintance. So, I was curious. She told me she moved to Colorado Springs in 1979 when her husband purchased the house she still lives in today. She said she came “kicking and screaming” but over time, developed a passion for this city. And when Peggy Shivers is passionate about something, she dedicates herself wholeheartedly.
As we continued to talk, and as her life unfolded in front of me, I began to realize this diminutive, grandmotherly woman was something of a towering figure.
Her story started in Center Point, a small community in eastern Texas, founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. This neighborhood provided a unique and supportive environment with a strong emphasis on education and music. Her experience there deeply influenced her, cultivating a love for music and performance. In a time when very few African-American people were afforded the opportunity to go to school, Peggy says, “In that community, no one asked if you were going to college. Everybody was.”
She later relocated to Portland, Oregon with her family and eventually attended college. Defying the expectations for African-American musicians, who were typically associated with gospel or jazz at the time, she pursued a classical music education as a lyric soprano. She seized every opportunity to perform and forged connections with renowned musicians, including Duke Ellington, with whom she sang at one of his “Sacred Concerts.”
Peggy married Clarence Shivers, a former Tuskegee Airman in the Air Force. They relocated to Spain for a decade, where she continued to perform, and he established himself as an acclaimed artist. Peggy loved living in Spain and didn’t have any plans to move. It was at this time that her husband embarked on a pivotal journey to Colorado Springs, where he purchased the house that would alter the course of their lives.
She quickly integrated into Colorado Springs’ music scene via her sorority connections, performing at the Fine Arts Center and solidifying her community reputation. At the same time, her husband Clarence made his indelible mark on the community. Although primarily a painter, he refused to confine himself to a single style, even venturing into sculpture. He received a commission from the Air Force to create a life-sized sculpture of a Tuskegee Airman, now displayed at the Air Force Academy. As Peggy and I speak, I admire his numerous paintings adorning the walls of her home. They span various styles, including a lifelike portrait of Peggy and striking abstracts. One piece captures my attention—a montage of images featuring civil rights figures surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr.’s portrait.
Peggy relates that painting to a story of how in the early 1980’s, Clarence received a commission to create images for a calendar highlighting civil rights leaders. The images garnered success, leading to a national art tour sponsored by the company. During this period, Colorado Springs had a small Black population, and Peggy noticed significant polarization between the communities. This divide became evident when the city’s mayor requested the art show be hosted at the Fine Arts Center, but the center’s leaders refused, despite numerous requests. Instead, the recently opened Pikes Peak Center embraced the exhibition. She notes the significant growth of the city, both in terms of its population and collaborative efforts since that time. In February, the Fine Arts Center is slated to commence a three-month retrospective of Clarence’s artwork.
Peggy harnessed the power of music to unite the community, organizing a music and arts celebration for their 25th wedding anniversary in 1993. She noticed the limited opportunities for African-American classical musicians. “At that time,” Peggy recalls, “you never saw any African-Americans doing classical music. People would, when they introduced me as a singer, first thing, they assume that I was a gospel singer or jazz singer... so I decided to just start this concert series and let people see that African-Americans can do more than gospel and jazz.”
She invited friends and music industry contacts, emphasizing that the invitations shouldn’t be limited to individuals from the Black community. She aimed to ensure inclusivity and resist mirroring the exclusionary practices she sought to change. The concert’s success initiated a lasting tradition. Recently, the Ent Center marked the series’ 30th Anniversary Celebration. These concerts have created opportunities for individuals to connect and form friendships with people they might not have encountered otherwise. Additionally, the concerts have offered sponsorship opportunities for emerging Black artists and played a significant role in launching several remarkable careers.
The initial concert generated ample proceeds, more than covering the costs. With surplus funds in hand, Peggy turned her mind to another need she had identified. While Clarence had been researching for his Civil Rights Leader series of paintings, he faced a lack of resources at the local library concerning African-American history and culture. Peggy felt a strong commitment to ensure adequate representation of her community’s literature so that their voices weren’t lost. Using concert proceeds, she and Clarence established the Shivers Fund, dedicated to building an extensive collection at the Pikes Peak Library District focusing on works by and about African-Americans. Over the years, the concert funds steadily expanded the collection, making it one of the region’s finest today.
As a token of appreciation for their contributions to both the library and the community, the Pikes Peak Library District honored the Shivers with a dedicated wing at their 21c location on Chapel Hills Drive. Inside the wing hangs a painting that has a special history to Peggy. In 1966, shortly after meeting Clarence, Peggy fell in love with one of his paintings, which she affectionately called ‘my painting.’ However, her delight turned to disappointment when, just two weeks later, Clarence revealed that he had sold it, leaving Peggy heartbroken.
In 2013, their granddaughter contacted her and claimed to have found one of Clarence’s paintings on eBay. Peggy was astonished to discover that it was the same painting she had adored years ago. It had traveled the world with a military general as he was stationed in various locations. The foundation acquired the painting to display it in the Shivers wing at the Library, where she can see “my painting” any time she likes.
Today, Peggy continues to support the Springs as a philanthropist, encouraging younger generations, especially those in the Black community, in the arts.