Zelma Watson George
|Zelma Watson George|
December 8, 1903|
Hearne, Texas, U.S.
|Died||July 3, 1994
Shaker Heights, Ohio, U.S.
Zelma Watson George (December 8, 1903 - July 3, 1994) was a well known African American philanthropist who was famous for being an alternate in the United Nations General Assembly and, as a headliner in Gian-Carlo Menotti's opera The Medium, the first African-American to play a role that was typically played by a white actress.
Early life 
Zelma Watson was born to Samuel E.J. and Lena (Thomas) Watson in Hearne, Texas on December 8, 1903. Her father was a Baptist minister, which caused them to move frequently. In 1917 the family moved to Topeka, Kansas from Dallas, Texas because the white citizens of Dallas did not approve of Samuel E.J. Watson assisting African-American prisoners.
After graduating from Topeka Public Schools George enrolled at the University of Chicago and obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology in 1924. She then went on to Northwestern University and studied the pipe organ from 1924 until 1926, and in 1925 enrolled as a voice student at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago until 1927.
In 1943, George received her Master's Degree in Personnel Administration from New York University as well as her Ph.D in Sociology in 1954. Her doctoral dissertation, A Guide to Negro Music: Towards a Sociology of Negro Music, which catalogued about 12,000 musical compositions written or enthused by African Americans, due to her extraordinary work, allowed her to receive honorary doctorates from Heidelberg College and Baldwin Wallace College in 1961 as well as Cleveland State University in 1974.
Personal life 
Zelma married Baxter Duke in 1937. They were divorced in 1942. In 1944, she married attorney Clayborne George of Ohio. The couple had no children.
Musical Accomplishments 
George received a Rockefeller foundation grant to study African American Music. After completing her study, she wrote the musical drama Chariot's A'Comin!, which was locally aired on television in Cleveland in 1949. Zelma Watson George then went on to be cast as the first African American woman to act in a typically White role in Gian-Carlo Menotti's opera The Medium at the Karamu Theater in Cleveland and the Edison Theatre in New York City. Following her debut, George was honored with the Merit Award of the National Association of Negro Musicians. She later went on to be cast in Gian-Carlo Menotti's The Consul and Kurt Weill's The Three Penny Opera.
Political and Philanthropy Accomplishments 
In the 1950s George was an advisor to President Dwight Eisenhower's Administration. She was involved with various national government committees, which usually concerned women, youth, and African Americans. She was a part of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Armed Forces from 1954 until 1957. From 1959-1971, George served on the executive council for the American Society of African Culture. George was a long-time member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
She was an alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1960 until 1961. President Richard Nixon named her to be a part of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1971. She received numerous awards for her accomplishments, including the Dag Hammarskjöld Award in 1961, the Dahlberg Peace Award in 1963, and the Mary Bethune Gold Medallion in 1973. She was inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame in 1983.
Later life 
After her husband died, George continued to work in philanthropy and continued to give to and improve the community. From 1966 until 1974 she was the director of the Cleveland Job Corps. Following her retirement, she then went on to teaching classes at Cuyahoga Community College in the Elders program. Zelma Watson George died in Shaker Heights, Ohio on July 3, 1994 leaving behind a rich legacy of achievements, and a sincere concern for the improvement of the world in which we live. Today, there is a community center in Cleveland, Ohio named in her honor.
Lucko, P.M. (2001, June 6). Zelma Watson George. Retrieved February 14, 2007, from The Handbook of Texas Online Web site: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/GG/fge25.html
Retrieved February 9, 2007, from Women in Philanthropy and Charity in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio Celebrating Over 200 Years of Generosity and Civic Commitment Web site: http://www.wrhs.org/library/template.asp?id=514
Women in History. Zelma Watson George biography. Lakewood Public Library. <http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/geor-zel.htm>.
Zelma Watson George Biography from Answers.com Web site: http://www.answers.com/topic/zelma-watson-george.
Zelma Watson George. (1997). In The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History [Web]. Retrieved February 10, 2007, from http://ech.case.edu/ech-cgi/article.pl?id=GZW