The Denyce Graves Foundation to Posthumously Honor Mary Cardwell Dawson, Founder of the National Negro Opera Company, at Events in Washington, D.C. January 19 – 22, 2023 Ahead of Black History Month

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Hidden Voices is the education and advocacy initiative of The Denyce Graves Foundation (DGF). Hidden Voices will tell the stories of diverse classical vocal artists whose stories have been omitted from American History. “Anchored between Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and Black History Month is the perfect time to tell the story of Mary Cardwell Dawson. For too long, the narratives of these Hidden Voices, like Mary Cardwell Dawson’s have been untold in the American chronicle, I want to be a catalyst and a pioneer for truly advancing ALL American History, and it starts with Mary Cardwell Dawson,” said Denyce Graves, Founder and Artistic Director of DGF. 

Mary Cardwell Dawson was an American musician, teacher, and the founding director of the National Negro Opera Company in Pittsburgh, PA. Dawson was devoted to bringing opera to African American audiences. She organized opera guilds in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, New York, and Washington, D.C. She trained hundreds of African American youths in classical music and arts.

“In 1943-44, Mary Cardwell Dawson performed on the Watergate Floating Stage as it sat within the Potomac River. It is serendipitous that the former site of this floating stage is now where the Kennedy Center located,” said Timothy O’Leary, General Director of Washington National Opera at the John F. Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts. “By producing The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson featuring Denyce Graves at the Kennedy Center, we are bringing Madame Dawson’s story home and celebrating her legacy at our national cultural center.”

“Her story needs to be told. Mary Cardwell Dawson was the epitome of the intersectionality between classical music, social justice, and American History which is exactly how we describe our work within the foundation,” said Dr. Karen M. Bryan, DGF Board Member and Mary Cardwell Dawson historian. The story of Mary Cardwell Dawson is the inaugural presentation of Hidden Voices.

Below is a full schedule of events, which have been made possible by the generous support of The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation and S&R Evermay. “S&R Evermay is honored to support The Denyce Graves Foundation and its Hidden Voices initiative,” says Isabelle Johnson, Executive Director of S&R Evermay. “Celebrating the untold stories of the remarkable individuals who helped shaped Washington, DC and our country uplifts us all.”

Thursday, January 19, 7:00 pm
Lecture by Dr. Karen Bryan, Mary Cardwell Dawson historian and musicologist, entitled “Self Determination on the Operatic Stage: Mary Cardwell Dawson and African American Performance in Washington, D.C. and New York City.” Sponsored by the Library of Congress and the American Musicological Society; Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20540

Friday, January 20, 7:30 pm
Main stage premiere of Washington National Opera’s “The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson,” a play with music by Carlos Simon and Sandra Seaton starring Grammy┬« award-winning mezzo-soprano, Denyce Graves as Cardwell Dawson; Presenting sponsor: General Dynamics. The Terrace Theater, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566

Saturday, January 21, 11:00 am
Press preview and community event to formally open the Hidden Voices exhibit about the life of Mary Cardwell Dawson, featuring photographs and costumes from operas she produced. This family-friendly, educational experience will include meeting Denyce Graves.

Sunday, January 22, 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm
Final performances of “The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson; The Terrace Theater, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566


The Denyce Graves Foundation (DGF) promotes equity and inclusion in American classical vocal arts through an unprecedented approach: championing the hidden musical figures of the past, while uplifting young artists of world-class talent from all backgrounds. DGF sets the precedent or true representation on concert and opera house stages while also equalizing significant omissions in our national history, advancing a more honest account of classical music history as it applies to underrepresented musicians in places across America.



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SOURCE The Denyce Graves Foundation