1899 - 1990
William Dawson was born in Anniston, Alabama. A graduate of the Horner Institute of Fine Arts with a Bachelor of Music, Dawson later studied at the Chicago Musical College with professor Felix Borowski, and then at the American Conservatory of Music where he received his master's degree. Early in his career he served as a trombonist both with the Redpath Chautauqua and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. His teaching career began in the Kansas City public school system, followed by the Tuskegee Institute, where he developed its choir into an internationally renowned ensemble; they were invited to sing at New York City's Radio City Music Hall in 1932 for a week of six daily performances.
As a composer, he was recognized for his contributions to both orchestral and choral literature. His best-known works are arrangements of and variations on spirituals. His Negro Folk Symphony of 1934 garnered a great deal of attention at its world premiere by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The symphony was revised in 1952 with added African rhythms inspired by the composer's trip to West Africa.
He died, aged 90, in Montgomery, Alabama.