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Whatever Happened to William Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 November 2012

Abstract

William Levi Dawson (1899–1990) is remembered chiefly for his masterful choral arrangements of Negro spirituals and for his multi-decade leadership of the Tuskegee Institute Choir. In 1934, however, his career seemed to be headed in a very different direction: Leopold Stokowski programmed Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony on four Philadelphia Orchestra concerts that met with acclaim from critics and audiences alike. The broadcast of one of these concerts on the Columbia Broadcasting System had a particularly powerful impact on the many African Americans in the radio audience. Materials in the William Levi Dawson Collection at Emory University illuminate both the momentousness of the symphony's debut and its provocatively minor impact on the trajectory of its composer's career. This article examines the premiere of the Negro Folk Symphony as a groundbreaking event both public and personal, offers an explanation for the symphony's startlingly rapid descent into obscurity, and argues that this effective and fascinating work merits renewed attention from conductors and scholars today.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Society for American Music 2012

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References

References

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Discography

Charlie “Doc” Cook and His 14 Doctors of Syncopation. “Alligator Crawl.” Columbia 1298D, 1927.Google Scholar
Charlie “Doc” Cook and His 14 Doctors of Syncopation. “Willie the Weeper” and “Slue Foot.” Columbia 1070D, 1927.Google Scholar
Charlie “Doc” Cook and His 14 Doctors of Syncopation. “Brainstorm.” Columbia 1298D, 1927.Google Scholar
Dawson, William L.Negro Folk Symphony. Decca DL 10077, 1963.Google Scholar
Dawson, William L.Negro Folk Symphony. MCA Classics, MCAD2–9826A, 1989.Google Scholar
Dawson, William L.Negro Folk Symphony. Chandos Records 9226, 1993.Google Scholar
Dawson, William L.Negro Folk Symphony. Chandos Records 9909, 2001.Google Scholar
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