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*On this date in 1894, Mary Dawson was born. She was an African American musician, administrator, and teacher and the founding director of the National Negro Opera Company (NNOC).
Originally from Meridian, NC, Mary Cardwell Dawson and her family moved to Pittsburgh at an early age. Dawson’s musical training included study at the New England Conservatory in Boston and the Chicago Musical College. She taught voice privately and at the Cardwell School of Music which she established in Pittsburgh in 1927. In the 1930’s, she toured with the Cardwell Dawson Choir, an award-winning group that made appearances at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago and at the New York World’s Fair. Dawson was also the president of the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM) from 1939 to 1941.
Upon presenting Aida at the NANM convention of 1941, she officially launched her NNOC later that year. The star was Julia Rhea, one of many Blacks who would otherwise have had difficulty finding opportunities to sing professionally in the United States. Other members were Minto Cato, Carol Brice, Robert McFerrin, and Lillian Evanti. For over twenty-one years, the company existed with tough financial issues but mounted productions in Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Spending her final years in Washington D.C., Mary Dawson died on March 19, 1962.
The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York