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William Dawson

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William Dawson


William Levi Dawson (26 September 1899, Anniston, Ala. – 2 May 1990, Montgomery, Ala.) was an American composer, choir director, professor, and musicologist.

A graduate of the Horner Institute of Fine Arts with a Bachelor of Music, William Dawson later studied at the Chicago Musical College with professor Felix Borowski, and then at the American Conservatory of Music where he received his master's degree. Early in his career, he served as a trombonist both with the Redpath Chautauqua and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (1927–1930).

His teaching career began in the Kansas City public school system, followed by a tenure with the Tuskegee Institute from 1931 to 1956. During this period, he appointed a large number of faculty members who later became well known for their work in the field. Additionally, Dawson also developed the Tuskegee Institute Choir into an internationally renowned ensemble; they were invited to sing at New York City's Radio City Music Hall in 1932 for a week of six daily performances.

Dawson began composing at a young age, and early in his compositional career, his Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano was performed by the Kansas City Symphony. Besides chamber music, he is also known for his contributions to both orchestral and choral literature. His best-known works are arrangements of and variations on spirituals. His Negro Folk Symphony of 1934 garnered a great deal of attention at its world premiere by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The symphony was revised in 1952 with added African rhythms inspired by the composer's trip to West Africa. Dawson said that the composition was an attempt to convey the missing elements that had been lost when Africans came into bondage outside their homeland. His most popular spirituals include Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, Jesus Walked the Lonesome Valley, Talk about a Child That Do Love Jesus, and King Jesus Is a-Listening.

Dawson was elected to the Alpha Alpha chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the music fraternity, in 1977. Dawson's arrangements of traditional African-American spirituals are widely published in the United States and are regularly performed by school, college and community choral programs. According to Dominique-Rene de Lerma of Lawrence University, in notes to The Spirituals of William L. Dawson produced by The St Olaf Choir in 1997, "What is even more striking than the richness of Dawson's textures is the lushness of his sonorities, exhibiting his remarkable insight into vocal potentials."

Works for Winds