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Open Wide the Door

Open Wide the Door

Open Wide the Door: The Story of Mary Cardwell Dawson and the National Negro Opera Company

Imagine it is a hot, August night in 1941. The theater is buzzing with activity. Costumes are being buttoned and zipped, make-up applied, and the singers are preparing to take the stage. The orchestra is tuning their instruments and a sense of anticipation fills the air. This is the scene on August 28, 1941 as the National Negro Opera Company, the most commercially successful Black- owned and operated company, prepared to perform 'Aida.'

In Spring 2024, the Charlotte Museum of History will unveil a new exhibition that imagines this night to tell the story of the National Negro Opera Company and its founder, Mary Cardwell Dawson. This is the story of dancers, singers, musicians, set designers, costume designers, painters, and the entire production team. It is the story of segregation and a lack of funding, but also of perseverance and determination as a Black woman from the Piedmont of North Carolina carved out a space for herself in the world of opera, bringing a talented group of artists along with her in a world where separate was anything but equal.

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