Tawawa House

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Scene from a 2014 revival of Tawawa House in Modesto, California

Tawawa House is an opera written by Zenobia Powell Perry in 1985. It premiered at Central State University in 1987. A fully staged revival took place in 2014 in Modesto, California.


Tawawa House is based on a real-life place in Ohio and set in 1852.[1] In the town of Wilberforce, Ohio, there was a watering hole called Tawawa by the Native Americans in the area.[2] A large, 300 room house, that served as a hotel in Wilberforce eventually became known as "Tawawa House."[2] Tawawa House was "notorious for its popularity among slaveholders and their enslaved mistresses" during the 1850s.[3] Travelers and vacationers were drawn to the natural springs in the area and stayed at the resort owned by lawyer and state legislator, Elias Drake.[3] Slaves that worked at the hotel were able to earn their freedom and get an education.[1] The house was also part of the underground railroad.[4] Later, the site became Wilberforce College.[5][6] Wilberforce was the first black-owned college in the United States.[5]

Perry found the story of Tawawa House especially interesting due to her own multiracial heritage.[2] When she first moved to Wilberforce, Ohio, she began to research the history of the town and found the story of Tawawa House.[7] Powell dedicated the opera to her parents.[8]


Powell started writing the libretto in 1974.[8] The first performance of Tawawa House took place at Central State University in the Paul Robeson Cultural and Performing Arts Center in 1987.[9] It was staged by Lois McGuire and Cheryl Welch and the orchestra was directed by Donald Carroll.[1] Perry's daughter, Janis, performed as a singer in the first performance of the opera.[5] The first fully staged production with sets and complete score was not performed until 2014 at the Townsend Opera in Modesto, California.[5]

The opera starts with an overture using "pentatonic melodic lines and harmonies based on seventh, ninth and eleventh chords.[10] The first chorus is made up of the entire cast.[11] Tawawa House's score, reflects the influence of her teachers, Dett, Dawson and Milhaud.[5] Tawawa House features a "unique fusion of traditional Negro Spirituals and western classical music."[12] Songs written for Tawawa House include "Jumping Over the Broom" and "Follow the Drinkin' Gourd."[5] With intermission, the piece is 2 hours long.[9] The story told in the opera involves the lives of escaped slaves.[13]


  1. ^ a b c Morris, Terry (1987-05-30). "Music Carries 'Tawawa House'". Dayton Daily News. p. 27. Retrieved 2019-12-07 – via Newspapers.com.
  2. ^ a b c Michaels, Beth (2002-07-11). "Zenobia Perry, 87, To Be Honored Today". Dayton Daily News. p. 131. Retrieved 2019-12-07 – via Newspapers.com.
  3. ^ a b Perkins-Valdez, Dolen (29 March 2011). "Real-Life Resort for Slaveowners and Mistresses Inspires Fictional Debut". Book Page. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  4. ^ Cronin, Allan J. (2014-05-06). "Tawawa House in Modesto? A New Staging of Zenobia Perry's Opera". New Music Buff. Retrieved 2019-12-07.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Price, Deon Nielsen (January 2015). "Zenobia Powell Perry Opera Premiered". Triangle of Mu Phi Epsilon. 108 (4): 18. Archived from the original on 1 August 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  6. ^ Parker, Lonnae O'Neal (21 January 2011). "A Tender Spot in Master-Slave Relations". The Washington Post. Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  7. ^ Pool 2009, p. 175.
  8. ^ a b Pool 2009, p. 176.
  9. ^ a b Pool 2009, p. 192.
  10. ^ Pool 2009, p. 176-177.
  11. ^ Pool 2009, p. 177.
  12. ^ "Tawawa House by Zenobia Powell Perry" (PDF). Townsend Opera. 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 July 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  13. ^ Etter-Lewis, Gwendolyn (2019). "The Most Challenging Issue Revisited". In Bramson, Loni (ed.). The Bahá'í Faith and African American History: Creating Racial and Religious Diversity. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. p. 129. ISBN 978-1-4985-7003-9.


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