H. Leslie Adams' "Nightsongs": Poetry, Music, and Performance

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



First Advisor

Maryann Kyle

Advisor Department



H. Leslie Adams is an African-American composer whose works reflect the influence of classical and contemporary genres. Adams has composed in various classical genres including instrumental chamber music, orchestral, incidental music, choral, opera, and art songs. He is best known for his art song and choral compositions. He has composed over forty songs for solo voice, including four song cycles. His dramatic works for voice include the opera, Blake, written and composed in 1985, and his most recent effort, Slaves, a musical drama written in collaboration with writer Sidney Goldberg, in 2005. Adams, a full-time composer, is honored by the fact that he is living and experiencing the growing appreciation of his music. The purpose of this document is to present his life as a composer, and to provide a performer's guide to his song group, Nightsongs. In regard to his life, there are two dissertations written by Dr. Linda Childs and Dr. Everett McCorvey. The dissertation written by Childs is a descriptive catalogue of his solo vocal works, while McCorvey's dissertation, entitled "The Art Song of black American Composers," includes Adams' life and works alongside ten noted African-American composers. I have chosen to focus solely on Nightsongs, a work based on the text of the five noteworthy African-American poets: Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Clarissa Scott Delany, and Leslie Morgan Collins. Chapter one will serve as the introduction, biographical narrative, and discourse on his compositional style. Chapter two will feature the biographies of each poet. Chapter three is the performer's guide to the text and music of Nightsongs. The concluding appendices contain a discography, song listing, publication sources, recital and concert programs.