Emmy® and Grammy® Award-winning Mezzo-soprano star Denyce Graves this month launched important works through the Denyce Graves Foundation with a glitzy string of events in Washington to roll out the foundation’s initiatives honoring the legacy of minority performers in America and celebrating the diversity and talent of the next generation.
The weekend kicked off with Denyce performaning the starring role in The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson at the Kennedy Center, which portrays the life and legacy of Mary Cardwell Dawson, acclaimed performer and founder of the National Negro Opera Company. Presented by the Washington National Opera, The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson, which played in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater from January 20–22, features music by Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon and text by playwright Sandra Seaton.
Following the Sunday evening performance, philanthropists Wayne and Catherine Reynolds hosted a dinner at the Kennedy Center sponsored by the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation. Guests included British Ambassador Karen Pierce and Sir Charles Roxburgh, Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker, Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden, Bret and Amy Baier, Billy Martin, Abby Phillip and Marcus Richardson, Dede and Dr. Dallas Lea, Teresa Carlson and Andre Pienaar, Isabelle Johnson, Lee Satterfield and Patrick Steel, Kim Sajet, Anita and Tim McBride, and Jonathan Capehart and Nick Schmit.
Denyce’s husband, NYU Langone transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery, who has visited and supported Ukraine’s largest functioning transplant center, was joined at the dinner by fellow doctors from Ukraine.
Isabelle Johnson of the S&R Evermay Foundation is a partner of the Denyce Graves Foundation and its new exhibition at the Kennedy Center, highlighting the untold stories and achievements of America’s hidden musical figures. The exhibit features photographs and artifacts from Mary Cardwell Dawson and the National Negro Opera Company, on loan from the Heinz History Center, and runs Jan. 18–Feb. 1, 2023.
On January 22, the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously presented to Mary Cardwell Dawson for providing opportunities for gifted African-American performers and challenging systemic racism. Established in 2003 by executive order by President George W. Bush, the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to individuals who have volunteered more than 4,000 hours of service and is the highest honor in the President’s Volunteer Service Award system. Presented by Dr. Beverly Kee, Certifying Agent, Premiere Coalition Partners Association, the award was accepted on the late Dawson’s behalf by her grandniece, Debra Evans.
Prior to the performances, the Library of Congress hosted a lecture on January 19 by Dr. Karen Bryan entitled, “Self-Determination on the Operatic Stage: Mary Cardwell Dawson and African American performance in Washington, DC and New York City.” The lecture was presented by the American Musicological Society and the Music Division of the Library of Congress.
The Denyce Graves Foundation is committed to highlighting the rich musical heritage of early African-American performers and preparing the diverse pool of tomorrow’s vocal stars by encouraging inclusive opportunity, access, and advocacy for the next generation.