DAWSON, WILLIAM LEVI, 1899-1990.
William Levi Dawson papers, 1903-1990

Emory University

Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Atlanta, GA 30322

404-727-6887

rose.library@emory.edu

Permanent link: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/8z6qq

Collection Stored Off-Site

All or portions of this collection are housed off-site. Materials can still be requested but researchers should expect a delay of up to two business days for retrieval.


Descriptive Summary

Creator: Dawson, William Levi, 1899-1990.
Title: William Levi Dawson papers, 1903-1990
Call Number:Manuscript Collection No. 892
Extent: 70.25 linear ft. (120 boxes) and 93 oversized papers (OP)
Abstract:Papers of William Levi Dawson, African American composer, conductor, and educator from Anniston, Alabama, including correspondence, original scores of Dawson's works, personal and family papers, photographs, audio visual materials, and printed material.
Language:Materials mostly in English.

Administrative Information

Restrictions on Access

Special restrictions apply: Use copies have not been made for all of the audiovisual series at this time. Researchers must contact the Rose Library in advance for access to these materials.

Collection stored off-site. Researchers must contact the Rose Library in advance to access this collection.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Printed or manuscript music in this collection that is still under copyright protection and is not in the Public Domain may not be photocopied or photographed. Researchers must provide written authorization from the copyright holder to request copies of these materials.

Source

Gift, 2001

Citation

[after identification of item(s)], William Levi Dawson papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.

Processing

Processed by Michelle Hite and Elizabeth Russey, October 20, 2005.


Collection Description

Biographical Note

William Levi Dawson (1899-1990), African American composer, conductor, and educator, was born in Anniston, Alabama, the oldest of the seven children of George W. Dawson, an illiterate day laborer and former slave, and Eliza Starkey Dawson. At the age of thirteen, he ran away from home to attend Tuskegee Institute, earning tuition by working in the Agricultural Division for the next seven years. He was admitted to the Institute band and orchestra, under the direction of Frank L. Drye, and learned to play most of the instruments. He joined the Institute Choir, under Jennie Cheatham Lee, and traveled extensively with the Tuskegee Singers and with the Institute band and orchestra. Graduating in 1921, he studied composition and orchestration with Henry V. Stearns at Washburn College in Topeka, Kansas. He also spent four years in the study of theory and counterpoint with Regina G. Hall and Dr. Carl Busch at the Horner Institute of Fine Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, graduating in 1925 with a Bachelor of Music degree. In 1927 he received a Master of Music degree in composition from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago.

In 1921, Dawson became director of music at Kansas Vocational College in Topeka. The next year he became director of music at Lincoln High School, Kansas City, Missouri. While studying in Chicago, he became the director of one of the principal church choirs of that city and played first trombone in the Chicago Civic Orchestra. In 1927 he married Cornella Lampton, who died less than a year later. He would marry again on September 1, 1935 to Cecile Demae Nicholson in Atlanta, Georgia.

In the fall of 1930, he was invited to return to Tuskegee Institute, to organize and conduct its School of Music. In addition to his administrative duties, Dawson conducted the Tuskegee Institute Choir. Under his leadership, the choir performed at the opening of Radio City Music Hall in New York in 1932, sang for both Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was the first African American performing organization to appear at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in 1946, breaking a long-standing race barrier. Despite the busy touring schedule of the Tuskegee Institute Choir, Dawson frequently traveled internationally. In 1952 he took a year-long sabbatical to West Africa, visiting Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Nigeria, Senegal, and Dahomey (now Benin). In 1956 the United States State Department invited Dawson to tour Spain to train local choirs in the African American spiritual tradition. That same year he retired from the Tuskegee Institute, after 25 years of leadership in the music department.

A prolific composer and arranger, Dawson's original compositions include Forever Thine (1920), Out in the Fields (1930), and, most famously, the Negro Folk Symphony, premiered in 1934 by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. During his tenure as the director of the Tuskegee Choir, Dawson also composed a number of arrangements of African American spirituals such as "King Jesus is a-Listening," "There Is a Balm in Gilead," and "Ezekiel Saw de Wheel." He also established his own music publishing business, printing his arrangements under the imprint Music Press.

William Levi Dawson died May 2, 1990, in Montgomery, Alabama, at the age of 90.

William Levi Dawson (1899-1990), African American composer, conductor, and educator, was born in Anniston, Alabama, the oldest of the seven children of George W. Dawson, an illiterate day laborer and former slave, and Eliza Starkey Dawson. At the age of thirteen, he ran away from home to attend Tuskegee Institute, earning tuition by working in the Agricultural Division for the next seven years. He was admitted to the Institute band and orchestra, under the direction of Frank L. Drye, and learned to play most of the instruments. He joined the Institute Choir, under Jennie Cheatham Lee, and traveled extensively with the Tuskegee Singers and with the Institute band and orchestra. Graduating in 1921, he studied composition and orchestration with Henry V. Stearns at Washburn College in Topeka, Kansas. He also spent four years in the study of theory and counterpoint with Regina G. Hall and Dr. Carl Busch at the Horner Institute of Fine Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, graduating in 1925 with a Bachelor of Music degree. In 1927 he received a Master of Music degree in composition from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago.

In 1921, Dawson became director of music at Kansas Vocational College in Topeka. The next year he became director of music at Lincoln High School, Kansas City, Missouri. While studying in Chicago, he became the director of one of the principal church choirs of that city and played first trombone in the Chicago Civic Orchestra. In 1927 he married Cornella Lampton, who died less than a year later. He would marry again on September 1, 1935 to Cecile Demae Nicholson in Atlanta, Georgia.

In the fall of 1930, he was invited to return to Tuskegee Institute, to organize and conduct its School of Music. In addition to his administrative duties, Dawson conducted the Tuskegee Institute Choir. Under his leadership, the choir performed at the opening of Radio City Music Hall in New York in 1932, sang for both Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was the first African American performing organization to appear at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in 1946, breaking a long-standing race barrier. Despite the busy touring schedule of the Tuskegee Institute Choir, Dawson frequently traveled internationally. In 1952 he took a year-long sabbatical to West Africa, visiting Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Nigeria, Senegal, and Dahomey (now Benin). In 1956 the United States State Department invited Dawson to tour Spain to train local choirs in the African American spiritual tradition. That same year he retired from the Tuskegee Institute, after 25 years of leadership in the music department.

A prolific composer and arranger, Dawson's original compositions include Forever Thine (1920), Out in the Fields (1930), and, most famously, the Negro Folk Symphony, premiered in 1934 by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. During his tenure as the director of the Tuskegee Choir, Dawson also composed a number of arrangements of African American spirituals such as "King Jesus is a-Listening," "There Is a Balm in Gilead," and "Ezekiel Saw de Wheel." He also established his own music publishing business, printing his arrangements under the imprint Music Press.

William Levi Dawson died May 2, 1990, in Montgomery, Alabama, at the age of 90.

Scope and Content Note

The collection contains the personal papers of William Levi Dawson from 1903-1990. The papers include correspondence, original scores of Dawson's works; files relating to Dawson's music publishing; writings by Dawson; subject files; notebooks, address books; and scrapbooks; personal and family papers; photographs; audio visual materials; ephemera; and printed material.

Arrangement Note

Organized into twelve series: (1) Correspondence, (2) Scores, (3) Music publishing files, (4) Writings by Dawson, (5) Subject files, (6) Notebooks, address books, scrapbooks, (7) Other personal and family papers, (8) Photographs, (9) Printed material, (10) Ephemera, (11) Audio-visual materials, and (12) Collected material.


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Description of Series

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