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Black History and Culture from the UMass Lowell Archives

Rawn Wadell Spearman, Sr. (February 4, 1920 - September 13, 2009)

"Sung or spoken, words resonate for Spearman. They transcend fear and pain. He knows words can chase away the devil, and grab a young boy’s soul by the scruff of its neck and lift it toward the refined air of heaven.” - Patrick Meighan 1.


Portrait of Rawn Spearman. Center for Lowell History University Archives, ALANA Collection, Box 4, Folder 18. 

Rawn Spearman Ed.D. was an actor, a writer, and a gifted baritone. Spearman joined the University of Lowell Faculty in 1976 as part of the Music Department in the College of Fine Arts. He began the fall season by leading the University Collegiate Chorale in a performance of "various American, American spiritual, and other choral works."². This would be the first of many concerts he would lead or perform at Durgin Hall and in greater Lowell. By 1978 Spearman was the Director of International Students, Director of the Lowell Black Gospel Choir, and also served on the Committee for the Black Heritage Symposium sponsored by the University Alternatives for Individual Development (A.I.D.), the campus Black Student Union, and the Merrimack Valley Chapter of the NAAACP. ³. In the 1980s, as an Associate Professor, Spearman was the Coordinator for Academic Studies in Music and Business, making it possible for the University to offer the degree of Bachelor of Music with elective studies in Business (MESB). 4Spearman was also a "long-standing student of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes," particularly Hughes's fusion of spoken word with music, spending time at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire to work on a documentary about the poet. 5.& 6.

Spearman worked closely with his wife Carlesta Elliott Saunders Henderson Spearman, also a performer and educator, performing together. She also was a founder and leader of the National Association of Black Music Educators.  The couple left New England in their retirement and settled in Virginia Beach, Virginia in 2006. Spearman died in 2009, and Carlesta in 2019. 7 & 8

The Bio sketch below dates from the early 1990s at the event of Spearman's "retirement" and transition to Faculty Emeritus at UMass Lowell. It offers a retrospective of his activities and achievements prior to UMass Lowell, including his debut at Town Hall in New York City and his performances on Broadway.


"RAWN SPEARMAN  Professor Emeritus 

Rawn Spearman has had a varied and distinguished career on the concert stage, Broadway, and in television. He is a graduate of Florida A & M University, Tallahassee, Florida, and Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City. Dr. Spearman is a former member of the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers (1946-1947). His professional preparation includes serious study at the American Theater Wing in New York City (1947-1952); lieder with Otto Hertz; French repertoire with Eva Gautier; early renaissance and baroque music with Yves Tinayre; general coaching and musicianship with Charles Kingsford, Alice Whiteman and William Sourwine; oratory with Edward Boatner; and art songs of black composers with Kelly Wyatt. 

The Baritone was a recipient of the Marian Anderson Award, the Roland Hayes Award, the American Theatre Award, Jon Hay Whitney Award, the JUGG Award, and the Ville de Fountainbleau Award. The latter brought with it an opportunity to study French art songs with Nadia Boulanger (summer, 1952). His auspicious debut at Town Hall led to the signing with impresario Sol Hurok, whereupon he began concert tours throughout the world under Hurok's direction, later appearing in productions on Broadway including "Let's Make an Opera," "House of Flowers," "Kwamina," "Four Saints in Three Acts," and "Nude with Violin." His TV experience includes "Bloomer Girl," "Blue Monday Blues," "Frontiers of Faith," and other television and radio shows. 

The Boston Symphony Youth Concerts, Harry Ellis Dickson, Artistic Director, marked Rawn Spearman's debut at Symphony Hall (1981). He was featured as Baritone Soloist with Mixed Chorus and Orchestra in the Cantata: Ballad for Americans, by Earl Robinson. 

Entering the field of urban education, Rawn Spearman was for a number of years Supervisor of Cultural Affairs for HARYOU-ACT, an antipoverty program in Central Harlem, NYC. He later accepted a position on the faculty of Hunter College, NYC, and became coordinator of the Hunter College-Harlem Education Center, a field-based center designed to offer better exposure and understanding of urban educational experiences for both faculty and students. As Professor Emeritus, having just recently retired from the College of Fine Arts, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Dr. Spearman continues to combine his career as past coordinator of music business with that of professional singer. For his students, this dual role is an inspiration, bridging the best of the two worlds. Aside from his busy schedule, Dr. Spearman performs faculty and community concerts throughout the New England area. He sang a leading role in the world premiere of the opera "The Station" by Vaclav Nelhybel as well as major concerts designed around the song cycles of Schubert, Schumann, Kestler, Bonds and Raphling. One of his most enjoyable oratory roles was that of "Elijah," also performed at the College of Fine Arts, University of Massachusetts Lowell. 

Past seasons have not been without their rewards. He sang a recital of songs set to the poems of Langston Hughes and also appeared as soloist with the Boston Orchestra Chorale at Jordan Hall in Boston. At MENC CMS, and CBMR conventions, Dr. Spearman was presented in lecture-demonstrations on "The Black Art Song: An Interdisciplinary Encounter," "Music Criticism: Nora Holt," and "Poems by Langston Hughes, Set to Music by Black Composers." 

Dr. Spearman completed two and a half months of summer research and study at Yale University, using the Peinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters) as a source for a new art song book specifically designed for courses dealing with African-American Studies. At the National Conference on Black Music Research, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. Spearman read a paper entitled "The Black Composer in Search of Soul: Langston Hughes" and was invited to attend the summer seminar for college teachers at Howard University (1984) on Afro-American Music Criticism: 1880-1980. 

Publications/Articles: The "Joy" of Langston Hughes and Howard Swanson (The Black Perspective in Music), Fall 1981; biographical notes included in Singing for All People, by Robert C. Hayden, 1989; Article: “Vocal Concert Music in the Harlem Renaissance," Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., 1990; "Nora Douglas Holt" Black Women in the United States: An Historical Encyclopedia, 1991; Lecture, "The African-American Family, Myth or Reality," 1992. 

As Professor Emeritus, College of Fine Arts, Dr. Spearman says he is finding new pleasures in his retirement - doing vocal concerts, adjudicating, reading papers, continuing his research, and as a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, teaching a few serious voice students, and finding the time to complete articles and publish two books." 9.


1. Patrick Meighan, Nashua Telegraph, January 19, 2004
9. Center for Lowell History University Archives, ALANA Collection Box 4, Folder 18.