A Celebration of Paul Laurence Dunbar

CJ English and performing arts students were audibly transported back to the Post Civil War Era Wednesday morning as they experienced the work of 19th century poet Paul Laurence Dunbar through music, song and the spoken word.

A special presentation of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”: A Celebration of Paul Laurence Dunbar, featuring poet Dr. Herbert W. Martin, soprano Dr. Minnita Daniel-Cox, and collaborative pianist John Benjamin, was performed for select classes April 18 in the auditorium.

The performance—which has appeared at venues including the University of Dayton, Bowling Green State University, and Grace Methodist Church—celebrates the work of the 1870’s Dayton native who is widely considered the country’s first nationally acclaimed African American poet. The January-to-July tour wraps up this summer at the National Convention for the National Association of Negro Musicians in Dallas, Texas.

A poet, author and former longtime University of Dayton English professor and Poet-in-Residence, Dr. Martin (pictured) recited an assortment of 12 Dunbar poems for CJ students, including popular dialect poems  “Accountability” and “An Ante-Bellum Sermon”, as well as more traditional works such as “The Poet and His Song” and “He Had His Dream”.

Dr. Daniel-Cox, who holds degrees from Bowling Green State University and the University of Michigan, performed poems set to music composed by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, H.Leslie Adams, Carrie Jacobs-Bond, and Betty Jackson King, and played live by pianist John Benjamin. Dr. Daniel-Cox and Benjamin both currently serve as Artists-in-Residence at the University of Dayton.

“[Dunbar’s] work often addressed the difficulties encountered by African-Americans and their efforts to achieve equality in America,” according to his biography at www.dunbarsite.org.  Before his death at age 33, Dunbar “produced 12 books of poetry, four books of short stories, a play and five novels.”

On CJ's stage, between recitations of “Discovered” and “A Negro Love Song”, Dr. Martin told students that at their core, Dunbar’s poems “leap over” today’s socially constructed barriers of ethnicity, sex, faith, religion, and the like.

Dr. Martin's captivating portrayals and continued study of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) have contributed to earning him four honorary degrees.