Emory Report
February 7, 2005
Volume 61, Number 18


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February 7, 2005
Conference to highlight African American composer

BY Sally Corbett & Deb hammacher

Leading composers, scholars, performers and critics will gather at Emory March 3–5 for an interdisciplinary discussion celebrating the life and work of William Levi Dawson, one of the most prolific African American composers and music educators of the early 20th century.

“In Celebration of William L. Dawson: An Exploration of African American Music and Identity at the Dawn of the 21st Century” will be held on campus and at the Emory Conference Center Hotel. The conference also will featured related concerts, to be held in the Schwartz Center and Glenn Auditorium.

Dawson founded the Tuskegee Institute of Music in 1930 and over the following 25 years led its choir to international renown. His most famous work, the “Negro Folk Symphony,” had its world premiere in 1934 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. Dawson’s arrangements of spirituals now represent part of the canon for choral societies throughout the world. The grand finale of the Dawson Celebration will be a choral concert featuring the Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir along with the Clark Atlanta University Philharmonic Choir, the Emory Concert Choir, the Glenn Chancel Choir and the Atlanta Sacred Chorale.

Emory has a strong Dawson connection: Special Collections of Woodruff Library is home to Dawson’s personal archive, and the library is marking the official opening of the archive to scholars with an exhibition, “‘To Work His Wonders on the Scene’: The Life and Times of William Levi Dawson,” now open and running through June 30 in Schatten Gallery. A complementary exhibition in the Schatten Corridor Gallery focuses on “Music of Social Change.”

“Dawson’s legacy extends beyond the musical arts,” said Dwight Andrews, associate professor of music and principal architect of the Dawson celebration. “To appreciate the full impact of his legacy, you have to understand his relationships with writers, performers and visual artists such as Ralph Ellison and Aaron

“This celebration,” he continued, “will honor Dawson and give us the chance to examine the relationship between African American identity and culture through the lens of his life and work. Equally significant, this gathering of artists, scholars and performers will present a dynamic exchange of ideas confronting art and culture today.”

Andrews said the conference will bring together scholars, cultural critics, artists and composers who to explore the role of race and ethnicity in the creation of music and other art forms; the intersection between concert and vernacular traditions; the cross-fertilization of artistic genres; and the impact of new modes of music creation and dissemination.

Participants represent an array of generation, genre and discipline, from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer George Walker to contemporary artists Meshell Ndegeocello and Geri Allen. Scholars such as Robin D.G. Kelley and Farah Jasmine Griffin, filmmaker and MacArthur fellow Louis Massiah, and essayist Thulani Davis represent a sampling of voices to be heard. The three concerts will encompass chamber music, a performance by Ndegeocello and the choral concert grand finale. The finale will include the performance of unpublished works found in the Dawson papers in Special Collections.

All three concerts are open to the public; the choral and chamber music concerts are free. Conference preregistration (on or before Feb. 20) for the full three days is $90; registration after Feb. 20 is $120. Single-day registration is $50, $20 for students. Lunch is included with the registration.

For the complete celebration schedule and registration forms, go to: www.music.emory.edu. For more information, call 404-712-8926 or e-mail smitholivia@bellsouth.net. For additional concert information or tickets to the Ndegeocello performance, call the Arts at Emory box office at 404-727-5050 or visit www.arts.emory.edu.