TACOMA, Wash. – For those familiar with the work of acclaimed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906), this fall will bring a rare treat. For those who have not read the poems of the man once known as the “African-American poet laureate,” the moment may be even more memorable.
On Thursday, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m., guest artist Minnita Daniel-Cox, soprano, will present Singing the Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, a free lecture-recital on settings of Dunbar’s poems for voice and piano. Daniel-Cox, a member of the voice faculty at University of Dayton, will be accompanied by Puget Sound’s Gwynne Brown on piano, in Kilworth Memorial Chapel. Admission is complimentary and tickets are not required.
Singing the Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar will include a dozen musical works written over a span of almost 80 years. The songs vary from the romantic ballad “How Shall I Woo Thee?” by Dunbar’s friend and collaborator, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor; to the haunted tones of “Love Memory,” by modern composer H. Leslie Adams; to the soulful “Theology,” by pioneering composer and music publisher Betty Jackson King. Three popular songs from 1906 created by songwriter Carrie Jacobs-Bond in collaboration with Dunbar also will be performed.
Poet and writer Paul Laurence Dunbar suffered an early death from pneumonia at the age of 33, but during his short lifetime he penned 12 books of poetry, four books of short stories, a play, and five novels. Often in his writing, he used local dialect and humor to entertain readers and to convey political messages arising from the period’s racial attitudes.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, and raised by parents who were freed slaves from Kentucky, Dunbar grew up hearing stories about plantation life that later influenced the tone and character of his writing. Unable to afford college, the young Dunbar worked as an elevator operator while trying to establish himself as a writer. In 1893 he self-published his first collection of poetry, Oak and Ivy, and, to help pay for its costs, sold the book for a dollar to people riding on the elevator.
That same year he moved to Chicago where he met Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist who rose from slavery to political and literary prominence. Douglass got Dunbar a job as a clerk at the first World’s Fair in Chicago and arranged for him to read a selection of his poems. Soon after Dunbar’s poems began appearing in major newspapers and magazines—though it was critical praise for his second book, Majors and Minors, that finally put his name in front of the general public and won him attention in literary circles across America.
Minnita Daniel-Cox, soprano, is assistant professor of voice and coordinator of the voice area at University of Dayton. Her special relationship with the poetry of Dunbar developed when she performed, in collaboration with poet Herbert Martin, the vocal recital I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Celebration of Paul Laurence Dunbar across the United States. Recently Daniel-Cox has performed with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra, and Bach Society of Dayton. She debuted with the Dayton Opera in the role of Sister Rose in Dead Man Walking; performed Leonora in the world premiere of the operaWitness; and played Irene in the premiere of The Dreamy Kid, which The Ann Arbor News described as “compellingly and beautifully sung.” Daniel-Cox received her Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from University of Michigan.
Gwynne Kuhner Brown ’95, piano, is associate professor of music history and music theory at University of Puget Sound. She is a musicologist and pianist, with a special interest in African-American concert music of the early 20th century. Brown is writing a book on the life and compositions of William L. Dawson, famed director of the Tuskegee Institute Choir. She has presented her scholarship at meetings of the American Musicological Society and the Society for American Music, and has published in the Journal of the Society for American Music and in the collection Blackness in Opera. She was the 2013 winner of the President’s Excellence in Teaching Award at Puget Sound. Brown earned her Master of Music degree from Indiana University and her doctoral degree from University of Washington.
Singing the Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar is presented by the Catharine Gould Chism Fund for the Humanities and the Arts, a resource endowed by Seattle businesswoman Catharine Gould Chism.
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