UD presents My Sister’s Keeper ‘Dunbar Edition’ this weekend

Showcasing African American composers has been the focus of My Sister’s Keeper since Minnita Daniel-Cox, Alexis Davis-Hazell, Marcía Porter and Rosalyn Wright Floyd joined forces in 2018. The group’s latest offering “Dunbar Edition,” is presented by University of Dayton’s ArtsLIVE in a Vanguard Legacy Concert in UD’s Sears Recital Hall in the Jesse Philips Humanities Center on Sunday, Nov. 13.

This new program from the musical scholars is focused on the work of Paul Laurence Dunbar, born in Dayton on June 27, 1872. This year marks the sesquicentennial of the birth of the poet, who has been a focus of Daniel-Cox’s research since 2011.

The group recently reflected on their mission and Sunday’s program.

Expanded programming

Daniel-Cox: “We are Black women performing scholars performing the music of African-aware and women composers. We started just looking at all of these Black women composers, and then, with this year being Dunbar’s sesquicentennial, it just made sense to do My Sister’s Keeper ‘Dunbar Edition.’ We’ve done art songs, we’ve done operas and now we have the ‘Dunbar Edition.’”

Porter: “For me it’s nice to go back to where Dunbar was from and to perform this music that has Dunbar poetry. It’s nice to be there doing that. This particular program is actually something Minnita put together and it’s really based on her research of Dunbar’s poetry.”

Exploring Dunbar

Daniel-Cox: “Marcía nailed it. She’s right. For me to be able to do this here, where my research began, has been a major plus. You know, this begins our Chicago recital tour and we’re in discussions with other locations as well.”

Davis-Hazell: “I don’t think I realized how much the work was needed and how much people appreciate the work we have done. It’s so heartwarming that people are hungry for this type of programming.”

Daniel-Cox: “I started my Dunbar research in 2011. I landed at UD in ‘09 and I was teaching voice to Dr. Herbert Woodward Martin’s granddaughter. I knew of his work and since I had access to him and all of his work. I didn’t realize how incredible he was. My hubris, I’m like, ‘Hey, Herb, you want to do a recital together.’ That’s literally what started all of this, a recital between myself and Dr. Martin. We’ve done it over 25 times around the United States.”

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Building an archive

Daniel-Cox: “I thought, ‘Well somebody needs to put together an archive,’ and I realized that somebody had to be me, so I started the Dunbar Music Archives in 2011. In 2019, I received a Mellon Foundation Grant for $150,000 and two National Endowment for the Humanities grants so the total was like $350,000 or something. It was to train UD faculty to integrate Dunbar into their courses. We had to design a larger Dunbar Library Archive, of which the Music Archive will be a part. So, my work started in 2011 and it has continued to expand. I love the fact that I get to choose from all of these fantastic composers because I’m focusing on a poet.”

On the road

Davis-Hazell: “It’s been remarkable to return to live performances with this Dunbar program. We were forced into creating videos, virtual formats programs and having to record ourselves individually remotely. We were faced with the option of either pulling out of particular opportunities because it was not in person or taking up that challenge of putting something virtual together and we made the right choice. We were able to reach so many people by making that choice.”

Porter: “It’s been nice to get back out to perform. Prior to August we hadn’t performed since early 2020. We did a virtual performance in 2021. We did a huge one for NATS in 2020, the first time we pivoted to a virtual performance.”

Daniel-Cox: “We’ve done about three different programs and we worked on putting this new one together this past year. We’re always planning ahead. We did our first performance of ‘Dunbar Edition’ at the African American Art Song Alliance in Irvine, California, on Oct. 15. We did a truncated version of it for our presentation for the International Consortium of Voice Teachers in Austria over the summer. We’ve been working on this program for the last year and before that it was art songs. Then, for the National Opera Association, we presented twice.”

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Sister power

Wright Floyd: “I thank the ladies so much for choosing me to be the pianist for this group. They are a wonderful group of ladies. Since I am the most seasoned member of the group, I really appreciate being a part of this. You don’t know how they have inspired me. They put a fire under me to keep doing some of the things I had been doing but had put by the wayside because I had gotten bogged down. Their enthusiasm has really influenced me.”

Daniel-Cox: “Rosalyn thanks us and says she’s grateful to be included but she steals the show. She is hilarious and it’s such a wonderful intersection of all of our gifts, perspectives and experiences. You know, Black people are not a monolith and neither are Black women. The four of us diva scholars come together with such different backgrounds but with things in common. It has been amazing.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at donthrasher100@gmail.com.

HOW TO GO

What: University of Dayton’s ArtsLIVE presents a Vanguard Legacy Concert with My Sister’s Keeper

Where: UD’s Sears Recital Hall, Jesse Philips Humanities Center, 300 College Park, Dayton

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13

Cost: Free for UD students, $18 general admission, $15 seniors 60 and older and UD alumni, $10 UD employees and retirees, $5 youth and students younger than 21

More info: 937-229-2545 or udayton.edu

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