Collection Manuscript/Mixed Material National Negro Opera Company collection,

About this Item


  • National Negro Opera Company collection,


  • The collection documents not only the activities of the company, but also the life and career of its founder Mary Cardwell Dawson. It includes business and personal correspondence to and from many prominent musical figures of the period, such as Marian Anderson, Muriel Rahn, Robert McFerrin, and Todd Duncan. It also includes items from political and community leaders, including Eleanor Roosevelt, P. L. Prattis, and Mary MacLeod Bethune. Of particular interest is correspondence with Clarence Cameron White, composer of Ouanga, an opera performed by the National Negro Opera Company in 1956. Most of the photographs feature individuals and groups involved in the activities of the National Negro Opera Company, the Cardwell Dawson Chorus, the NNOC's various membership guilds, and other affiliated groups. Included are publicity stills of performers, and production photographs of casts, rehearsals, and performances. The Programs and Promotional Materials series contains a substantial number of programs and related promotional materials, including posters, flyers, press releases, funding solicitation letters, letters announcing events, tickets, and invitations. The Administrative and Financial Papers provide a record of the National Negro Opera Company's business activities. Included among these materials are charters, by-laws, lists of officers and board members, planning information, minutes of meetings, and other documents relating to the company, to the National Negro Opera Foundation, and to other organizations and committees. The Realia series includes 275 metal printing plates, the majority of which contain reverse photographic images of individuals and groups. These images were reproduced in publications, newspaper articles, programs, brochures and other publicity materials. The collection also includes scrapbooks, clippings, address books and lists, notebooks, music, script fragments, synopses, and books. In addition, the collection contains materials related to company soprano La Julia Rhea, and to Walter M. Dawson, Mary Cardwell Dawson's husband, who worked for the company. Mr. Dawson, an electrician with the General Services Administration, supported the National Negro Opera Company financially and played an instrumental role in opposing discrimination in government and electricians' unions.


  • National Negro Opera Company (U.S.)
  • Dawson, Mary Cardwell, 1894-1962.


  • -  National Negro Opera Company (U.S.)
  • -  Dawson, Mary Cardwell,--1894-1962
  • -  National Negro Opera Foundation (U.S.)
  • -  National Negro Opera Company (U.S.)--Archives
  • -  Dawson, Mary Cardwell,--1894-1962--Archives
  • -  National Negro Opera Foundation (U.S.)--Archives
  • -  National Negro Opera Company (U.S.)--Photographs
  • -  Dawson, Mary Cardwell,--1894-1962--Photographs
  • -  Dawson, Walter M
  • -  Rhea, La Julia
  • -  Opera companies--United States
  • -  Opera producers and directors--United States
  • -  African American singers
  • -  African American musicians
  • -  Opera--Production and direction
  • -  African Americans--Music--History and criticism
  • -  Opera--United States--20th century
  • -  African Americans in the performing arts
  • -  African American singers--Photographs
  • -  Anderson, Marian,--1897-1993--Correspondence
  • -  Bethune, Mary McLeod,--1875-1955--Correspondence
  • -  Brice, Carol,--1918-1985--Photographs
  • -  Campbell, Dick,--1903-1994--Correspondence
  • -  Cato, Minto,--1900-1979
  • -  Duncan, Todd--Correspondence
  • -  Evanti, Lillian,--1890-1967
  • -  McFerrin, Robert,--1921-2006--Correspondence
  • -  Nickerson, Camille
  • -  Prattis, Percival Leroy,--1895-1980--Correspondence
  • -  Rahn, Muriel--Correspondence
  • -  Roosevelt, Eleanor,--1884-1962--Correspondence
  • -  White, Clarence Cameron,--1880-1960--Correspondence
  • -  Dett, R. Nathaniel,--1882-1943.--Ordering of Moses
  • -  National Association of Negro Musicians (U.S.)
  • -  Music--Manuscripts


  • Address books
  • Appointment books
  • Clippings (Information artifacts)
  • Contracts
  • Correspondence
  • Financial records
  • Minutes
  • Photographic prints
  • Posters
  • Printing blocks
  • Printing plates
  • Programs (Documents)
  • Promotional materials
  • Scrapbooks


  • -  Organized into the following series: I. Correspondence, 1934-1970, II. Photographs, 1925-1994, III. Programs and Promotional Materials, 1926-1997, IV. Administrative Papers, 1912-1961, V. Financial Papers, 1936-1962, VI. Clippings, 1931-1997, VII. Scrapbooks, circa 1940-1961, VIII. Address Lists and Address Books, 1940-1961, IX. Notebooks, 1932-1961, X. Music, 1879-1961, XI. Books, 1889-1955, XII. Realia, circa 1928-1961, XIII. La Julia Rhea Gift, 1930s-1989, XIV. Walter M. Dawson Papers, 1925-1970.
  • -  The National Negro Opera Company, the first African-American opera company in the United States, was founded in Pittsburgh, Pa. in 1941, by Mary Cardwell Dawson (1894-1962). Dawson managed the company until her death. The National Negro Opera Company was incorporated in the state of Illinois in 1942 with the stated purpose of "affording for the Negro the opportunity for the fullest expression in cultural development." In the late 1940s, Dawson moved to Washington, D.C., which became the center of the company's activities. There were active chapters in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Pittsburgh, and Red Bank, New Jersey. In 1950, the National Negro Opera Foundation was incorporated to help raise funds to sustain the company. The company's repertoire consisted mainly of six operas and one oratorio. The Ordering of Moses oratorio was arranged in operatic format by Dawson for operatic presentation. The operas included Carmen (Bizet), Faust (Gounod), Aida (Verdi), La Traviata (Verdi), Il Trovatore (Verdi), and Ouanga (Clarence Cameron White). The National Negro Opera Company ceased operations with Dawson's death in 1962.
  • -  Gift; Mary Cardwell Dawson's niece, Barbara Lee; 1971.
  • -  Documents related to the career of singer La Julia Rhea; Gift; Robert Lee Rhea and Henry James Rhea; 1989.
  • -  Finding aid available in the Library of Congress Performing Arts Reading Room and at
  • -  National Negro Opera Company Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.


  • 11,250 items (68 boxes, 39 linear feet)

Call Number/Physical Location

  • ML31 .N39


Library of Congress Control Number

  • 2006568166

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Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

National Negro Opera Company, U.S, and Mary Cardwell Dawson. National Negro Opera Company collection. 1879.

APA citation style:

National Negro Opera Company, U. S. & Dawson, M. C. (1879) National Negro Opera Company collection.

MLA citation style:

National Negro Opera Company, U.S, and Mary Cardwell Dawson. National Negro Opera Company collection. 1879.