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SIU’s Morris Library to host golden jubilee “Treemonisha” debut in Midwest on Nov. 16

An cast photo of the 1972 production of Scott Joplin’s opera “Treemonisha.”
Morris Library Special Collections Research Center
University Communications and Marketing
50th anniversary retrospective: Morris Library will commemorate the 1972 production of Scott Joplin’s opera “Treemonisha” (shown here) on Nov. 16 in the library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium.

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Morris Library will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the university’s 1972 production of the Scott Joplin opera “Treemonisha” on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

The celebration in the library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium will feature a panel discussion both in person and via Zoom from several participants involved with the original production. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. with a panel of performers from the 1972 production discussing the historical importance of the opera and SIU's production of it. The panel will be moderated by Dr. London Branch, who was chorusmaster and conductor of SIU’s production while an instructor in the university’s School of Music. Branch is a professor emeritus in music at Jackson State University.

The program is free and the open to the public. Following the lecture, the reception will feature live jazz by SIU music students.

“Treemonisha” was composer Joplin’s third stage work. Written in 1911 but not staged until 1972, first in Atlanta and then the Wolf Trap Opera in Washington, D.C., the Midwest premiere came in two performances at SIU Carbondale on Nov. 17-18, 1972. The performance staged by SIU’s Marjorie Lawrence Opera Theatre featured an all-Black cast of SIU and local singers and the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe, said Walter D. Ray, political papers archivist with the library’s Special Collections Research Center.

Ray said according to Branch, staging the opera at SIU Carbondale showed that “a then-conservative music department with the support of the community could produce an opera by an important composer who had been overlooked because of the kind of music he played. ‘Ragtime’ had no respect at that time, especially in the academic community. The opera moved SIU and the music department to become more inclusive.”

Joplin, who died in 1917, posthumously earned a 1976 Pulitzer Prize in special citations and awards for his contributions to American music.

In addition to Branch, the audience will hear from JoAnn Hawkins White, who played the title role, and Ruby Streate, director of dance of the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities. Wilfred Delphin, rehearsal pianist in 1972 and one-half of the internationally renowned piano duo Delphin and Romaine, and Kay Pace, who was responsible for recruiting singers from the local community, will also participate by Zoom.

Several other performers from the 1972 production, Michael Dixon (Zodzetrick); David Thomas, (Ned); Clarence Carter, (Remus), along with Larry Melton, founder of the Sedalia Ragtime Festival and an expert on Joplin who attended the Midwestern premiere of Treemonisha, will also participate virtually.

White and Streate will perform music and dance numbers for the commemoration.


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