Choirs to join in celebration of legendary Tuskegee choir director Dawson

TUSKEGEE, Ala. (March 26, 2008) - The 17th annual celebration of Dr. William Levi Dawson, the late, legendary composer director of the world-renowned Golden Voices Choir, will be held April 4-5 on the campus of Tuskegee University.

The annual event kicks off Friday, April 4, with a lecture by Clyde Owen Jackson, former Golden Voices choir director and current interim director of choral activities and professor of Fine Arts at Texas Southern University in Houston. Jackson's lecture, "Embrace the Light," will begin at 1 p.m. in the University Chapel.

Jackson, a former student of Dawson and Tuskegee alumnus, served as interim director of the choir after his predecessor, Roy Edward Hicks, died in 1990. Jackson returned to the position in 1999. He served through the spring of 2001. During that time, the choir continued on-campus and national presentations, including a performance of Adolphus Hailstork's cantata "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes" with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

On Saturday, April 5, the Dawson Institute Concert will be held at 7 p.m. in the General Daniel "Chappie" James Center on campus. Several choirs will perform, including the Golden Voices Concert Choir and the Tuskegee University Concert Band.

Invited choirs are Fort Valley State University Choral, the Talladega College Choir and the Aeolins of Oakwood University.

Dawson is credited with establishing the choir's world-famous reputation. The "Dean of African American Choral Composers" took the helm of the choir (founded in 1881 by University founder Booker T. Washington) in 1931.

Among Dawson's highlights:

  • The 100-voice choir appeared at the opening of Radio City Music Hall in New York City (1932). This event expanded Tuskegee's prestige worldwide.
  • The Tuskegee Choir was invited to sing at the birthday party of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park, N.Y. A few days later, the Choir presented a concert at the White House at the request of President Herbert Hoover. In the years to follow, the Tuskegee Choir would perform a series of concerts on the ABC, CBS, and NBC radio networks. It 1946, the ensemble became the first black performing organization to appear at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.
  • The choir's television debut came on Feb. 5, 1950. Edgar Bergen (the father of actress Candace Bergen) introduced the Tuskegee Choir to a national audience on his television program, "The Edgar Bergen Show." The Choir's popularity continued to extend across the television airwaves as invitations poured in for appearances on "The Kate Smith Show" (1952), "The Ed Sullivan Show" (1952), "The Eddie Fisher Show" (1953 and 1954), "Frontiers of Faith" television program (1954) and "The Arthur Godfrey Show" (1954). A record album, "The Tuskegee Institute Choir Sings Spirituals" (1955), closed the teaching career of Dawson, who retired in 1955.

The Dawson activities this year are sponsored by the Tuskegee University Continuing Education Department and the Department of Fine and Performing Arts. Both events are free and open to the public.