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Performance to honor legacy of musician, author, actress, and poet Eva Jessye 

PITTSBURG, Kan. – Pittsburg State University students and faculty will celebrate the life and legacy of Kansas native Eva Jessye — an acclaimed Black musician, actress, and author with ties to Pittsburg State University — with a special event at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, 1711 S. Homer.

The event is open to the public and will feature performances of her musical arrangements, poetry, and narrations.

Jessye served as Artist in Residence at PSU from 1978-1981 and was the first Black woman to win international distinction as a director of a professional choral group. 

In 1953, she became the chorus trainer for George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, the first true American opera. Later, the Eva Jessye Choir toured internationally giving concerts in war-torn Europe. She walked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 during his civil rights march; her group was the official choir for the event.

Jessye traveled the world sharing her Kansas roots through music and the rhythm of her poetry. She returned to Kansas late in life and continued to produce works of music and poetry well into her 90s. Jessye, known as the “grand dame of Black music in America,” died in 1992. 

A collection of her photos, documents, sheet music, newspaper clippings, and other materials is housed in Special Collections in Axe Library at PSU.

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