Today's Articles

People, Locations, Episodes

Tue, 09.26.1899

William Dawson, Composer, and Vocalist born

William L. Dawson

William Levi Dawson was born on this date in 1899 in Anniston, AL. He was a Black vocalist and composer.

At the age of 13, he ran away from home and entered Tuskegee Institute. Supporting himself by manual labor, he completed his education there in 1921.  In 1931, he organized the School of Music at Tuskegee and, for 25 years, conducted the 100-voice "Tuskegee Choir." In 1932-33, this choir was a main attraction at the grand opening of the Radio City Music Hall in New York. Under the direction of Dr. Dawson, the choir performed for Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Dawson made guest appearances throughout the United States and abroad. He was a recognized authority on the religious folk music of the American Negro, and his choral and orchestral arrangements were extensively performed. He composed the "Negro Folk Symphony," which premiered in 1934 by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. In this work, the composer used melodic and rhythmic language borrowed from Negro spirituals, along with original material in the same idiom. The symphony was imaginative, dramatic, and colorfully orchestrated. Dawson was a director and consultant to many festival groups.

In 1956, Tuskegee Institute gave him an honorary doctor of music degree. That same year, he was sent by the U. S. State Department to conduct various choral groups in Spain.  In 1952, Dawson visited seven countries in West Africa to study indigenous African music. He later revised the Negro Folk Symphony with a rhythmic foundation inspired by African influences. Dawson was a guest conductor with the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra (1966), the Wayne State University (Michigan) Glee Club (1970), and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (1975).

He held degrees in theory and composition from the Horner Institute of Fine Arts in Kansas City, MO, and the American Conservatory of Music. He held honorary doctorates from Tuskegee Institute, Lincoln University, and Ithaca College. He was named to the Alabama Arts Hall of Fame in 1975 and received the Alumni Merit Award from Tuskegee Institute in 1983. William Levi Dawson died on May 4, 1990.

To Become a Conductor or Composer


Black Lives: Essays in African American Biography
by James L Conyers
Publisher: Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, ©1999.
ISBN: 058527763X 0765603306

New Poem Each Day

Poetry Corner

Patience...patience they all say... but will patience climb up a stair or pick up a spoon or chant a litany? ...those hollows worn in a cathedral step by the long slow... PATIENCE by Frank Horne.
Read More