Life of university’s most famous choir director celebrated
TUSKEGEE, Ala. (April 6, 2014)– One of the pillars of Tuskegee’s musical history was honored this weekend during annual Founder’s Day events. Part of the 2014 Tuskegee University Lyceum Series, the life and legacy of William L. Dawson were celebrated with a lecture and concert on Saturday. Dawson, a legendary composer and arranger of Negro folk songs, helped the Tuskegee choir rise to new levels of renown during his tenure (1931-1955).
Dr. Nan Spicer, a native of the City of Tuskegee, delivered the 23rd Annual William Levi Dawson Lecture. She retired in 2012 as a tenured assistant professor of music at Savannah State University. She was also accompanist for the Tuskegee University Golden Voices Concert Choir from 1990 to 1995.
During her address, Spicer shared some little-known history and insight about Dawson and his teaching style. She said Dawson had a thirst for knowledge at a young age and believed in the enhancement of students’ lives through education. He also believed in perfection, vision, and having high musical ideals.
“Excellence was demanded in all things and that’s the Tuskegee way,” Spicer told the audience in Kenney Hall auditorium.
Spicer said Dawson believed a choir’s voices must blend, have precision of attack and have a pitch that holds. She also said Dawson’s philosophy on choral music was based on the Bible. She quoted from II Chronicles, Verse 13 and 14:
“It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever…”
Spicer said many of Dawson’s beliefs and lessons are relevant today in musical education. She said people around the world sing Dawson’s music and are influenced by his work.
“Dawson's arrangements do endure,” Spicer said. “This man's work is timeless.”
Chimes played during concert.
Kettle drums played during concert.
© 2014 Tuskegee University