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FEBRUARY 14, 1894 - MARCH 19, 1962

Lillian Mary Cardwell Dawson was an educator, impresaria, singer, and pianist who trained at the New England Conservatory of Music. She founded the National Negro Opera Company in 1941, in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and moved the headquarters to Washington, D.C. in 1942. Over the next two decades, the NNOC produced operas in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Dawson provided performance opportunities for more than 1800 singers and continued to use opera—and music in general—as a means of racial uplift and self-determination. She engaged performers such as Lillian Evanti, La Julia Rhea, William Franklin, Robert McFerrin, Sr., Camilla Williams, Carol Brice, Joseph Lipscomb, and Napoleon Reed to sing leading and supporting roles in the company. The NNOC continued until Madame Dawson’s death in 1962. Her activism and accomplishments contributed to the careers of African American singers and the founding of companies such as Opera Ebony and Opera South.

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Video Credit: WQED Pittsburg

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