"FIRST LADY OF OPERA"
Mary Lucinda Cardwell Dawson: an American musician and teacher and the founding director of the National Negro Opera Company.
The National Negro Opera Company was the FIRST African-American opera company in the United States, organized in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1941, under the direction of none other than Mary Cardwell Dawson.
It also may be well known that Mrs. Dawson’s organization provided opportunities for gifted African American performers while simultaneously challenging racist ideas by her use of White orchestras and conductors to accompany a Black cast.
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The company’s repertory included Verdi’s Aida and La Traviata, Gounod’s Faust, Robert Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses, and Clarence Cameron White’s Ouanga.
Mary insisted that lead singers would receive standard (union) wages, so there were slight issues with maintaining funding over time.
Several years later, The company performed on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House (1956), before it stopped staging operas because it became too expensive. Subsequently, the company performed excerpts from Robert Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses.
The company sadly disbanded in 1962 upon Dawson’s death.
● In the mid-1930s, Mrs. Dawson organized and operated a School of Music that she ran from her Pittsburgh home (Jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal was among her students).
● She also organized the Cardwell Dawson Choir which auditioned at the Major Bowes Amateur Hour in New York in 1935.
MARY CARDWELL DAWSON'S CONNECTION TO FLORENCE PRICE
THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF NEGRO MUSICIANS, INC.:
● One of the oldest organizations in the U.S. dedicated to the preservation and advocacy of all genres of the music of African-Americans.
● This organization encourages inclusive musical culture throughout the country.
● Within NAMN there is a network of support and influence where educators and musicians can share their knowledge and students can grow in their craft and love for music. - People of ALL ages can come together to share and participate in the musical experience.
● Since its inception, NANM has provided encouragement and support to thousands of African American musicians, many of whom have become widely respected figures in music and have contributed significantly to American culture and music history.
● Marian Anderson: the first scholarship award recipient in 1919.
● Florence Price: Also a scholarship recipient.
A NOTE FROM SOPHIA & KHALIL:
I like to think that organizations like NAMN helped pave the way even for trailblazers like Mary Cardwell Dawson. When looking at research like this, only one thing comes to mind: artistic community. Figureheads like Mary Cardwell Dawson and organizations like NAMN ADVOCATE for these voices to be heard and for this work and talent to be fostered in an environment that uplifts African-American artistry and pushes for an equitable opportunity to showcase said art and beauty.