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Shared Voices and Hidden Voices of the Denyce Graves Foundation focuses on equity and inclusion


To promote equity and inclusion in American classical vocal arts, The Denyce Graves Foundation (DGF), founded by world-renowned opera star, teacher, and director Denyce Graves, offers the public two fascinating programs, Shared Voices and Hidden Voices.

Through an unprecedented approach, DGF’s goal is to uplift young artists of world-class talent from all backgrounds while championing the hidden musical figures of the past. With their unprecedented work in the world of classical music, the foundation stands apart from other organizations currently in operation in the performing arts space as it is focused on Black students and other underrepresented groups. 

It also celebrates trailblazing musicians, music educators, and composers of color through community engagement programs, concerts and presentations, creation of new works of art, establishment of young artist development training and more, as well as via social and traditional media. 

The Foundation says it sets the stage for true representation in American vocal arts by providing opportunities, access, and exposure that all singers need to take ownership of their talent and shape their own fulfilling careers. With statistics saying that enrollment has fallen sharply with Black students nationwide earning only 6% of undergraduate music degrees, Shared Voices is working with HBCUs target enrollment in arts programs including music. 

Difficulties in identifying viable pathways to employment are a major complaint by students. With DGF, students will now be connected to a nationwide network of conservatories and cultural institutions to address this long standing inequity and, over time, correct the downward trend in HBCU arts enrollment. At the beginning of each school year, DGF’s Shared Voices team members listen to the needs and goals of students, school leaders, musical directors, and educators to develop programs that will lead to transformative and lasting change.

Hidden Voices captures the history of Blacks who played a significant role in this musical genre whose history has been practically lost. The goal of DGF is to expand the public’s understanding of the rich, multicultural history of classical music by bringing the stories of our nation’s hidden musical figures to light. They seek to achieve this goal through collaboration and alliance with renowned chroniclers, presenters and educators in history and culture, including The Smithsonian Institution, The Metropolitan Opera, Library of Congress, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, as well as with some of America’s elite Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Conservatories, and Schools of Music. 

Singer and entrepreneur Mary Cardwell Dawson

The  Denyce Graves Foundation began with the extraordinary story of singer and entrepreneur Mary Cardwell Dawson. Until recently, she was unknown to many (including those in the classical music world), and her successful, all-Black opera company—that she founded in 1941—was all but lost to the annals of history. Dawson studied at the New England Conservatory of Music (Denyce Graves would attend the same institution, generations later.) Dawson was an accomplished singer, pianist, teacher, and eventually, impresaria. She had dreams of singing opera in the major houses of the United States. However, her country wasn’t ready for people of color to perform on these stages. Her response was to form the National Negro Opera Company (NNOC). It was bold and successful, performing to mixed audiences and lasting over 20 years. One of Dawson’s many achievements was having her beloved NNOC perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York at a time when artists of color were still not welcome in that venue. However, the talent in the NNOC couldn’t be denied and their productions received rave reviews from white reviewers in major newspapers. Dawson’s company ended up having guilds in many major American cities, performing to great acclaim wherever it appeared.


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