During Women’s History Month I have shared stories about some women you may have known. If you didn’t know them, perhaps you have found their stories interesting
Today these women all have one thing in common and that is their love of music.
Zenobia Powell Perry was born in Oklahoma. Her mother was a full-blooded Creek Indian. Her father was born on Somalia and then educated in Great Britain and the United States.
Zenobia loved to play the piano and at the age of eleven won the Junior Pianist Concert sponsored by the Federated Women’s Music Clubs. She continued to study piano and earned her diploma in Piano Performance from the Berryman School of Music in Omaha.
She continued her education at Tuskegee Institute where she sang in the choir and served as practice pianist. Although by this time she was an accomplished pianist she continued her studies and received a Masters of Arts in Education from Northern Colorado University and the Master of Arts in Music Composition at Wyoming University.
She was Model Teacher in Education at Tuskegee Institute and then became Supervisor of Community Musical Activities for the Tennessee Valley Authority. She taught at another college before coming to Central State University where she spent twenty-seven years in the music department.
An avid composer of music, her works have been heard in many locations including Carnegie Hall. Her works include art songs, choral works, instrumental chamber works and piano pieces.
The Ohio Humanities Council provided a grant for the performance of her musical drama “Tawawa House” which had its debut May 30, 1987 at Central State University.
She served as director of the adult and children’s choirs at Christ Episcopal Church in Xenia for many years and was an active member at the Senior Citizens Center, often playing the piano at gatherings. She died at the age of 95.
Her mother loved to sing, and perhaps that had some influence on her life as a composer.
Her daughter, Janis-Rozena Peri , is a gifted soprano. In a February column, I mentioned the Debutant balls which were held annually by the Wilberforce Links. Janice was one of those young women who “came out” in 1960. She performed some of her mother’s compositions at Carnegie Hall and has been a professor of music at West Virginia University. She also sang some of the music from “Tawawa House” at the premier presentation.
Another well-known composer, Emma Jean Davidson Cherry, was born in Hamilton County in 1880. After he parents died, she came to Greene County to live with her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Ms. Thomas Magruder.
She grew up loving music, and was encouraged to pursue her abilities. An accomplished musician, she was the organist for many years for the First United Presbyterian Church in Xenia and wrote many of the hymns which were sung by the choir.
She also had a remarkable singing voice. She and her aunt went to Germany and France. She studied voice for a year in Paris during that time.
She continued her voice lessons in New York City when she was living in that city with her one of her brothers and his wife. It was during that time that she was granted an audition for the Metropolitan Opera. Her audition was considered worthy of the opportunity to sing with the Met, but she declined the offer and returned to Xenia. She said she was not ready for opera at that particular time.
That was not the end of her singing career; however, she studied voice with Henry Ditzel of Dayton and then enrolled in the Toronto Conservatory of Music where she studied voice and composition.
She had been credited with composing approximately fifty songs, fifty anthems and fifty to one hundred antiphons of sacred music.
Additionally, she loved to write short stories and a number of her children’s stories were published by church and teen publications.
She also wrote the musical scores for several plays written by Matilda Swinnarton including “The Witness”, “Harbor of the Sun” and Deer trail Inn”.
In 1950, she was awarded an honorary degree of Sacred Music from Monmouth College in Illinois.
She and her husband, William J. were very active in the community. He was the owner of Cherry’s Furniture Store. She was active in the American Women’s Volunteer Services, United Voluntary Services, Home Club of Greene County, Xenia Woman’s Club, Bundles for Britain/French Relief, Salvation Army, Community Chest- Xenia and the Milk Fund Board for Underweight School Children. She was an amazing lady.
Roberta Alexander graduated from Xenia High School in 1965. She had the leading role in the XHS production of “The Sound of Music”. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Central State University in 1969. She was one of fourteen concerto winners for the National Music Camp and then she was awarded a scholarship for graduate work at the University of Michigan where she received her Master’s Degree in Music in 1972,
Her amazing career has led to performances in many of the leading operatic theaters in the world including Venice, Zurich, Hamburg, Amsterdam, the Royal Opera House/Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and many more. (Her biography is fascinating – you can Google her).
Joan Baxter is a Greene County resident and historian.