Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Piano Works: Zenobia Powell Perry, Cambria CD-1235, Including A Suite From The Anti-Slavery Opera "Tawawa House" Based on Events in Wilberforce, Ohio

Piano Works: Zenobia Powell Perry
Josephine Gandolfi, Deanne Tucker,
and LaDoris Hazzard Cordell
Cambria CD-1235 (2015) (54:05)

The liner notes are by Jeannie Gayle Pool, Ph.D.  They begin with a Biography which opens with this information: "Composer and pianist Zenobia Powell Perry (1908-2004) was born to a well-educated, middle-class family in Boley, Oklahoma.  Her father, Calvin Bethel Powell, was an African American physician whose missionary parents raised him in Somaliland; her mother, Birdie Lee Thompson, was Creek Indian and African American.  Originally trained in piano by a local teacher, Mayme Jones (who had been a student of the pianist-composer R. Nathaniel Dett), Perry moved in 1931 to study with Dett in Rochester, New York."  R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) is profiled in detail at AfriClassical.com.

Dr. Pool continues: "Later, she went to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where she assisted the famous choir director, arranger, and composer William L. Dawson." William Levi Dawson (1899-1990) is featured at AfriClassical.com.

The notes tell us that when she graduated in 1938, Zenobia Perry "...headed an African American teacher training program, supervised in part by Eleanor Roosevelt, who became a friend, ally, and mentor."  Perry taught at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College from 1947-1955, Dr. Pool writes, and during that period "...she formed a piano duo with Arthur Kelton Lawrence..."  Dr. Pool adds that one of the works performed by the duo was "...Perry's own arrangement of Florence Price's Dances in the Canebrakes." 

The notes continue: "From 1955 until 1982, she was composer-in-residence at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.  Her opera, Tawawa House, based on the history of Wilberforce (completed with a commission by the Ohio Arts Council/Ohio Humanities Joint Program) was premiered in 1987."  Later, the liner notes relate: "The staff of the 200-room hotel called Tawawa House included escaped slaves, freed slaves, mixed-race children of white Southern slave owners, their African American mistresses, and others involved in the anti-slavery movement.  The opera depicts the complex relationships between blacks and whites in Ohio during the pre-Civil War period.  The resort played an important role in the Underground Railroad in the region."

The works on the recording are generally extremely brief; several are less than a minute in length.  The pieces are quite jovial and uplifting.  They are a pleasant mixture of piano solo and piano four-hands works.  For anyone with an interest in music related to The Underground Railroad or its era, this recording can be especially recommended.

The first 11 tracks are performed by Josephine Gandolfi:
1 Orrin and Echo (1970)  :45
2 Vignette No. 1 (1990)  :32
3 Vignette No. 2 (1990)  :50
4 Childhood Capers (1935) :50
5 Ties (1970)  :41
6 Round and Round (1977)  1:23
7 March (Three Notes) (1980)  1:22
8 Pavanne (1962)  2:46
9 Homage to William Levi Dawson On His 90th Birthday (1990)  4:16
10 Times Seven (1964, Rev. 1985)  5:32
11 Soliloquy (Rev. 1979)  4:16

Tracks 12-15 are performed by Deanne Tucker:
12 Nocturne (1961)  2:12
13 Teeta (1972, Rev. 1988)  2:41
14 Blaize (1985)  2:09
15 Flight (1970)  1:33

Tracks 16-17 are performed by LaDoris Hazzard Cordell:
16 A Jazz Trifle (1986)  2:11
17 Rhapsody (1960)  5:03

Suite From Tawawa House (1985, Rev. 2014) is arranged for piano four-hands by Josephine Gandolfi and is performed by Josephine Gandolfi and Deanne Tucker:
18 Overture  (2:08)
19 Cake Walk  (2:49)
20 Sunday Dance Tune  (2:00)
21 Prelude  (2:21)
22 Fire Music  (3:06)
23 Jumping Over the Broom  (2:35)

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