Black History:  Special Delivery!!

(Image:  Library of Congress)

National Negro Opera Company Performing, “Aida” (Image: Library of Congress)

In 1941, the National Negro Opera Company was founded by Mary Cardwell Dawson in Pittsburgh, PA. Dawson attended the New England Conservatory. Graduating in 1925, she was the only African American in her class. She faced significant discrimination trying to pursue an career in opera. She used this as motivation to become an advocate and activist for black musicians. The National Negro Opera Company provided training to talented, aspiring black musicians.

Prior to founding the National Negro Opera Company, Mary Cardwell Dawson organized the Cardwell Dawson Choir in 1939. At this point in her career she had become an accomplished promoter of young black artists. She also was the president of the National Organization of Negro Musicians. The first performance of the National Negro Opera Company was a production of Aida in 1941. Though other black opera companies were in existence before this one, the National Negro Opera Company experienced greater longevity.

The National Negro Opera Company achieved success and expanded, opening chapters in Washington, DC, Chicago, New York and Cleveland. Despite its growth, the company experienced financial trouble. In spite of the financial challenges, Mary Cardwell Dawson continued to be a well respected teacher and musician and she continued to train and promote black musicians. In 1955, The National Negro Opera Company was the first black company as well as the first independent company to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House. Mary Cardwell-Dawson died of a heart attack in 1962 and the National Negro Opera Company disbanded soon after. Its first home was designated as a historical landmark in the state of Pennsylvania in 2007. It was also featured in a documentary aired on Pittsburgh public television.

Click on the link below to see an excerpt from the documentary: