Tusculum hosting Black History Month event about famous African American composer and music school director

GREENEVILLE – In honor of Black History Month, Tusculum University’s Center for the Arts will host a presentation about an African American composer, choir director and professor that will incorporate music and a lecture.

William Levi Dawson

William Levi Dawson

“Celebrating the Life and Work of William Levi Dawson” will be held Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. in Behan Arena Theatre. Dr. Mark Malone, a music educator with more than 46 years of classroom experience will deliver a lecture about Dawson, who was the subject of a book he wrote. He will also play piano for Dr. Katrina Cox, a vocalist of various genres, who will be the mezzo soprano soloist at the event.

The Dawson retrospective is free.

“This will be an outstanding evening from two distinguished members of the music community who will share William Levi Dawson’s impressive story,” said Dr. Scott Hummel, Tusculum’s president. “I have known Dr. Malone for a long time and am grateful he reached out with an offer to present this highly informative and entertaining program at Tusculum.”

According to a biography compiled by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Dawson specialized in black religious folk music. He was born in 1899 in Anniston, Alabama, and was the son of a former slave. In 1912, he headed to then Tuskegee Institute to study music as a pre-college student under the tutelage of Booker T. Washington, who served as the president.

Dawson later graduated from the Horner Institute of Fine Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. He subsequently earned a master’s degree from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. During his studies and in the early years after graduation, he was a director of music at a vocational college and high school, a band director, as well as a trombonist with the Redpath Chautauqua and the Chicago Civic Symphony Orchestra.

For 25 years, he served as director of Tuskegee’s School of Music. Its 100-voice choir performed at the grand opening of Radio City Music Hall in New York and for President Herbert Hoover and future President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Members of the Tuskegee choir were the first African Americans permitted to perform in Constitution Hall in Washington.

Dr. Katrina Cox

Dr. Katrina Cox

Dr. Mark Malone

Dr. Mark Malone

Dawson’s contributions included chamber music. He was known for infusing West African folk music into his compositions, but the ASO said his best orchestral and choral works were based on spirituals such as his “Negro Folk Symphony” in 1934.

The ASO said his most popular compositions include “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel,” “Jesus Walked the Lonesome Valley,” “Talk about a Child That Do Love Jesus” and “King Jesus Is a-Listening.” These songs were published under his record business, Imprint Music Press.

Dawson died in 1990.

Dr. Malone is an expert in choral sight reading and has written sight-singing materials for several states. He has also created arts integration lesson plans for the Mississippi Arts Commission that use music, dance, theater, visual arts and media arts to enhance understanding of subjects such as math, science, social studies and language arts. He has made presentations at the National Association for Music Education and state music educators conferences.

Dr. Cox has performed with Tri-Cities Opera, the Big Band Jazz Ensemble, Harpur Jazz Ensemble and Opera North in New Hampshire. She also toured through the southern tier of New York with her jazz band, The New Standard. In addition, she portrayed Ella Fitzgerald as a part of the 2023 FestivalSouth Music Extravaganza in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She is assistant professor of music and director of the Carpenter’s Wood Vocal Ensemble in the Winters School of Music at William Carey University.

“We are delighted to contribute to Black History Month with this exceptional program,” said Rouja Green, director of the Center for the Arts. “The community will enjoy hearing from these expert academics, whose insights on William Levi Dawson will enrich the lives of audience members. We are proud to offer this program as part of our commitment to civic engagement.”

Behan Arena Theater is on the lower level of Annie Hogan Byrd Fine Arts Center. For further information about the event, please email Green at rgreen@tusculum.edu. To learn more about the university, please visit www.tusculum.edu.