November 11, 2022
The music of composer William Levi Dawson echoed through the West Dining Room at Pearl River Community College on November 9. Listening to selections of his work was an integral part of Dr. Mark Malone’s presentation “Celebrating the Life and Work of William Levi Dawson” with featured soloist, Ms. Katrina Cox.
The presentation was part of the Honors Institute Lyceum Lecture Series hosted by the Dr. William Lewis Honors Institute. The series seeks to host speakers who engage, challenge, provoke, and quite possibly, change lives.
Malone walked attendees through Dawson’s life. From his birth near the dawn of the 20th Century, through his struggles to acquire an education in music, and to his eventual rise to a highly sought-after composer, conductor, and educator, the one-hour presentation conveyed much about the music educator. Along with information on Dawson’s personal life, Malone interjected small bits of history of the times that Dawson lived through.
While many of his compositions were well-received upon their release, some were neglected for years. The highly acclaimed “Negro Folk Symphony” released in 1934 is one that had been buried. The piece has seen new light in recent years after a recording of it by the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2020.
Pieces performed by Malone on piano and Cox with vocals during the presentation included “Forever Thine,” “Jump Back Honey, Jump Back,” “Talk About a Child That Do Love Jesus,” and “Out in the Fields.” Additionally, recordings of past performances of Dawson’s work were played.
Honors Institute student Caleb Thornton enjoyed the lunchtime lecture, finding Malone’s approach inspiring and a great memorial to all Dawson put out into the world.
“I was particularly struck by Dawson’s use of Negro jargon, alternative pronunciations of English words that were less harsh sounding,” said Thornton. “It really inspired me because I did not think there were any songs like that left anymore; music like that that exists that isn’t discriminating towards us.
“Ms. Cox has a beautiful voice. Her performance of the selections truly inspired me.”
The material presented was gathered by Malone for his dissertation on Dawson, including five interviews with the composer. Now everything is being compiled into the first-ever book exclusively about Dawson to be released in April 2023.
“My love for Dawson’s choral settings of the organic melodic material of African Americans led me to investigate the possibilities of writing a dissertation celebrating his life and work,” said Malone. “When I learned that only a paragraph here or a page there had been written I seized the opportunity to write the seminal work on this great American composer. Who knew that 41 years later my recent extensive archival work would culminate in the publishing of the first volume dedicated solely to Dawson.”
ABOUT DR. MARK MALONE
Malone is a veteran music educator with over 40 years of classroom experience at all grade levels. He has been a frequent presenter at the National Association for Music Education National Convention, MS Music Educators State Convention, Louisiana Music Educators Association, Mississippi Whole Schools Initiative Summer and Winter Institutes, choral clinics for students and conductors, as well as an organizer of professional development workshops for teachers. He has also acted as a curriculum designer for the Mississippi Arts Commission.
Malone has experience in elementary and high school music programs, was choral director at Pearl River Community College, Coordinator of Music Education at William Carey University, and was Visiting Professor of Music Education at The University of Southern Mississippi. He currently serves as President of Meistersingers Civic Chorus in Hattiesburg.
ABOUT KATRINA COX
A native of Laurel, Cox is currently an Assistant Professor of Music at William Carey University. She is a doctoral candidate in vocal performance at The University of Southern Mississippi and has performed in numerous productions throughout her career.
Article and photos by Laura O’Neill.