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The National Negro Opera Company

An OnQ Special Feature

Winner of the 2009 Mid-Atlantic Emmy Award for Outstanding Entertainment Feature

Winner of the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania's 2010 Golden Quill Award for Outstanding Television Feature

Winner of the 2010 Robert L. Vann Media Award from the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation for Outstanding Television Feature Story

The Cardwell Dawson Choir

Mary Cardwell Dawson

Above: The Cardwell Dawson Choir. Right: Mary Cardwell Dawson. Courtesy of Heinz History Center

Click here to watch the video.

Madame Dawson's Opera Company

Mary Cardwell Dawson formed the National Negro Opera Company in 1941 inside a grand Victorian-style house on the border of Pittsburgh's Homewood and Lincoln-Lemington neighborhoods. Madame Dawson expanded the opera company to include chapters in New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, and other cities. Dawson's opera company, her music school and the Cardwell Dawson Choir, opened new doors and launched careers for African-Americans who had little or no access to classical or opera music training.

The house also has a rich history beyond Mary Cardwell Dawson. Businessman William "Woogie" Harris, brother of famed photographer "Teenie" Harris, bought the house in 1930, hosting and housing prominent black entertainers (Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughn, Cab Calloway) and athletes (Joe Louis, Roberto Clemente) who were denied Pittsburgh hotel accommodations because of their race. Neighbors dubbed the house "Mystery Manor" because of the famous comings and goings.

This OnQ special report focuses on new efforts to restore the home, features rare archival images, and an interview with Dawson's niece and former secretary, Barbara Edwards Lee. It is brought to you by the Emmy-winning team of writer/producer David Solomon, videographer/editor Frank Caloiero, and narrator Michael Bartley.

Dawson House 1950 Dawson House 2009

Left: 7101 Apple St., Pittsburgh, circa 1950. Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Teenie Harris Archives. Right: Efforts are now underway to preserve and restore the now-dilapidated home. Courtesy of WQED Multimedia

opera posterLena Horne

Left: One of Mary Cardwell Dawson's productions. Courtesy of Heinz History Center.
Above: Lena Horne is among the famous celebrities who stayed at "Mystery Manor." Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Teenie Harris Collection


Related Links:
Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh
RenewPittsburgh
Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum

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