The Dunbar Music Archive: A homage to Dayton’s famous poet

The poet, author, librettist, activist and essayist Paul Laurence Dunbar is one of Dayton’s most famous sons. Born in 1872 to former slaves, he was gifted with words from a young age, publishing poetry in the Dayton Herald in 1888 and editing the Dayton Tattler, a short-lived African-American newspaper published by classmate Orville Wright. He published his first book of poetry, Oak and Ivy, in 1893 and his second, Majors and Minors, three years later. Before his death from tuberculosis on Feb. 9, 1906, at the age of 33, he would produce many volumes of poetry, short stories, novels, lyrics, essays, and narrative works (source).

Minnita Daniel-Cox, D.M.A., assistant professor of music at the University of Dayton, established the Dunbar Music Archive in 2014 to increase awareness and consumption of vocal repertoire with texts by Dunbar, whose poetic voice has influenced generations of American poets — including those responsible for the blossoming of the Harlem Renaissance.

Housed in the University of Dayton’s online institutional repository, eCommons, the Dunbar Music Archive contains the texts of selected poems, affiliated musical settings, composer and poet biographical information, purchase and/or library use information, and audio and video streaming of selected texts. Composers include William Grant Still, Carrie Jacobs Bond, Gary Bachlund, Reginald Evans, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Robert Owens, Evelyn McCue Wright and many more.

“Wasn’t he an interesting artist in an interesting time?” Bachlund asks. “My reasons for setting his poetry can be summarized in a simple statement: I admire his work, and it sings to me. So, songs bubble up out of that reaction. … What a fine American voice was his.”

To mark the 110th anniversary of Dunbar’s death, the University Libraries share this sampling of  Bachlund’s musical settings of the poet’s works:

  • Accountability,” a dialect poem published in Howdy Honey Howdy (1905); musical setting for medium voice and piano

  • Howdy, Honey, Howdy!” a dialect poem published in Lyrics of Love and Laughter (1903); musical setting for medium voice and piano

  • Lager Beer,” a dialect poem originally published in the Dayton Tattler under the pseudonym Pffenberger Deutzelheim; musical setting for baritone and piano

  • Life,” a poem in standard English published in Lyrics of a Lowly Life (1896); musical setting for low or medium voice and piano; poem’s page contains video of Herbert Woodward Martin, English professor emeritus, performing the poem in the person of Dunbar.

  • When All Is Done,” a standard English poem published in Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899); musical setting for medium voice and piano

Explore the Dunbar Series and Black History Month activities sponsored by the University of Dayton. Or, browse the Libraries Catalog for a wide assortment of circulating and rare books by and about Paul Laurence Dunbar.

- Maureen Schlangen, E-scholarship and communications manager
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