Iowa Women's Archives
GENEVA SOUTHALL (1925-2004)
Geneva Handy Southall was born December 5, 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the second of five children of Dorothy Pauline Handy and Rev. William Talbot Handy, Jr. Geneva Handy graduated from high school in 1941 and entered Dillard University, majoring in music. At Dillard, Handy was active in Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the school newspaper, and musical endeavors. Upon graduation from Dillard, Handy moved to Los Angeles where she undertook private study with John Gray and taught at the Gray Conservatory of Music.
While in Los Angeles, Handy met Patrick Roan. They married in 1946 after returning to Louisiana. Their daughter Patricia (Tisch) was born in 1948 in Oklahoma City where Southall continued studying piano under Herbert Ricker, earning her Artist’s Diploma from the National Guild of Piano Teachers. In 1953 Patrick Roan was diagnosed with kidney disease. He died in 1954. Leaving daughter Tisch with her brother’s family, Geneva Roan entered the American Conservatory in Chicago to obtain her master’s degree.
Roan married Mitchell Southall in the late 1950s, divorcing six months later. After the divorce, Southall began teaching at Paul Quinn College in Waco, Texas. She entered the University of Iowa in 1958 to begin work on her doctorate. During this time, Southall spent two years teaching at Knoxville ( Tennessee) College and two years at South Carolina State College - Orangeburg. At South Carolina State, Southall became active in the Civil Rights Movement, protesting alongside her teenaged daughter; both were arrested for demonstrating. Southall eventually returned to the University of Iowa, where in 1966 she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in piano performance.
Southall joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota in 1970, and taught both Afro-American and Caribbean Studies. She was a member of the Graduate Faculty, the School of Music, American Studies and Religious Studies, the Latin American Studies Program, and was Chair of the Afro-American and African Studies Department. Southall published three books about African American musician and former slave “Blind Tom” Moore. Southall was also a member of the musical performance group “Women of Class Trio.”
Southall was also active in the MacPhail Center for the Arts, the Twin Cities Black Music Educators, the National Association of Negro Musicians Convention, and Minnesota Public Radio. Southall was recognized for her service and commitment to her community with numerous awards including: “National Woman of the Year” (Iota Phi Lambda, 1979), “Outstanding Leadership Award” (Minneapolis NAACP, 1979), “Distinguished Achievement Award” (National Association of Negro Musicians,1980), “Distinguished Alumni Award” (Dillard University, 1983), “Positive Image Award” (Minneapolis Urban League Street Academy, 1986), Geneva Southall Week (proclaimed by Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson, 1992), and the naming of the Geneva H. Southall Library at the University of Minnesota, dedicated to Afro-American studies.
Geneva Handy Southall died on January 2, 2004 at the home of her daughter in Iowa City, Iowa.
Scope and Content Note
The Geneva Handy Southall papers date from 1960 to 2004 and measure 3 linear inches. The papers are arranged in two series: Biographical and Professional. The Biographical series includes a biographical sketch of Southall, along with articles and newspaper clippings about Southall, her obituary, memorials and tributes, and an oral history interview conducted by Kathryn Neal for the Iowa Women’s Archives at the University of Iowa in 1998.
The Professional series contains copies of Southall’s two books on African-American pianist, composer and former slave “Blind Tom” Moore, including advertising and reviews for The Continuing “Enslavement” of Blind Tom - Book II, recital programs, and a letter nominating Southall for the 1988 Distinguished Teaching Award in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Minnesota. The Professional series also contains several audiocassettes of Southall performing (1959 and 1962-1963), and a 1982 studio recording of her performance of the music of pianist and composer “Blind Tom” Moore.
For more information about this collection contact the Iowa Women's Archives.
Iowa Women’s Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City IA 52242.
Page created June 9, 2005.