Mabel Freeman and the National Negro Opera Company
In the 1940s, Mabel Jones Freeman began an association with the Washington Opera Chorus, a chapter of the National Negro Opera Company. She presented the Mabel Jones Freeman Dance Group, her dance company comprised of thirteen members, in the 1947 variety musical concert of the Opera Company. According to the program, Freeman’s company performed five pieces accompanied by original music scored by Freeman herself. There was no review of this concert, so little is known about the content or quality of the movement. The central theme of her featured choreography was the transition of nature from spring to summer to winter.
More about the Washington Guild of the National Negro Opera Company
The National Negro Opera Company (1941–1962) was the first African American opera company in the United States. Organized in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, under the direction of Mary Cardwell Dawson, the company was launched with a performance at the local Syria Mosque. The star was La Julia Rhea, and other members included Minto Cato, Carol Brice, Robert McFerrin, and Lillian Evanti. During its 21-year run, NNOC also mounted productions in Washington DC, New York City, and Chicago. The company disbanded in 1962 upon Dawson’s death.
Although the company toured nationally, its offices and studios were housed in a three-story Queen Anne-style house at 7101 Apple Street in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood. Constructed as a private residence, it was purchased by William A. “Woogie” Harris (brother of the famous photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris) in the 1930s. The NNOC moved to Washington DC in 1942, but the company continued to use the third floor as a local guild office and studios until the company disbanded.
After the Opera departed, the building transitioned into a social hub and boarding house known as Mystery Manor, often hosting visiting celebrities and athletes who were excluded from the local segregated hotels.