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The Dreamy Kid/De Organizer


The Dreamy Kid/De Organizer

Music by James P. Johnson

Libretti by Eugene O’Neill and Langston Hughes

In repertory with Jackie O

Conducted by Kenneth Kiesler

March 23 & 25, 2006

Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre

UM School of Music

Opera Theatre


Overview     Press Release     Program     Photos


Presented as part of the theme semester Opera in the Americas -- American Opera with support from the Institute for the Humanities.


Don’t miss these two rare one-act operas composed by jazz and blues great James P. Johnson. The Dreamy Kid is an early work by Eugene O’Neill which centers around a black man on the run from the law. Torn between the need to escape and the fear of being cursed if he doesn’t visit his dying grandmother, Dreamy ultimately must chose between comforting her at the end of her life and possibly getting caught. In Langston Hughes’ De Organizer, a union organizer tries to rally sharecroppers into forming a union. Written for a union convention, the opera played once at Carnegie Hall before dropping into obscurity and was presumed lost.

African-American composer and pianist James P. Johnson, the father of stride piano, was an important transitional artist between the age of ragtime and of jazz in the early 1920s, especially for jazz piano greats Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton who followed him. Johnson contributed greatly to the jazz library with such songs as “Charleston,” “If I Could Be With You,” and “Carolina Shout” as well as being the favorite accompanist of Bessie Smith. Classically trained, his works were not limited to jazz, but ranged into symphonies, chamber music, and operetta — many of which have unfortunately been lost. UM Professor of Jazz James Dapogny has painstakingly reconstructed these two gems, long forgotten and neglected, of this incredible musician.


Press Release


Ann Arbor - The UM Opera Theatre presents two evenings of American opera in repertory March 22 - 26 in the Mendelssohn Theatre. Jackie O, a pop opera about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, plays March 22 at 7:30 PM, March 24 at 8 PM and March 26 at 2 PM. It will alternate with an evening of two one-act operas by jazz musician and composer James P. Johnson, The Dreamy Kid and De Organizer, which play March 23 at 7:30 PM and March 25 at 8 PM. Part of the School of Music’s 125th Celebration and in conjunction with a conference on Opera in the Americas at the Institute for the Humanities, all three operas are directed by guest artist Nicolette Molnár and conducted by School of Music Professor Kenneth Kiesler.

The Dreamy Kid and De Organizer

African-American composer and pianist James P. Johnson, the father of stride piano, was an important transitional artist between the age of ragtime and of jazz in the early 1920s. Johnson contributed to the jazz library with such songs as “Charleston,” “If I Could Be With You,” and “Carolina Shout.” Classically trained in piano, his works were not limited to jazz, but ranged into symphonies, chamber music, and opera — many of which have been lost. Johnson wrote two operas, De Organizer with a libretto by Langston Hughes and The Dreamy Kid with a libretto by Eugene O’Neill.

Johnson approached Langston Hughes in 1937 with an interest in collaborating on a play. A “blues opera” about union organization, De Organizer was performed only once in concert format on May 31, 1940, in Carnegie Hall, with Leonard DePaur conducting the International Ladies Garment Workers Union Negro Chorus and Symphony Orchestra. The opera was presented as an evening of entertainment at the twenty-sixth annual ILGWU convention. Although known to scholars and with a single song from De Organizer remaining, the musical material to the opera was thought to be lost.

De Organizer was uncovered and restored by UM Professor of Music Theory James Dapogny. Dapogny found parts of the music in the UM’s Center for African and Afro-American Studies Music Collection. Eva Jessye, a professional choral director whose credits included preparing the chorus for the original performance of Porgy and Bess, gifted to UM a number of her papers at her death in 1992. Among the papers was the score (with performance notes) that Leonard DePaur used to prepare the chorus and soloists for the New York performance of De Organizer. However, Jessye’s score contained the vocal line only, no instrumentation.

Using the Jessye score and all the existing materials for the opera found in the Johnson family archives with the help of Barry Glover, Johnson’s grandson and director of the James P. Johnson Foundation for Music and the Arts, Dapogny was able to reconstruct the opera. “The music ranges in style from a near-fold style to jazz,” stated Dapogny. “I used whatever Johnson material I had and selectively composed material wherever it was lacking, realizing the project as nearly as possible to what I think Johnson would have wanted.” The reconstructed opera was presented in concert version by the UM Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in November 2002.

During his research in the Johnson archives for De Organizer, Dapogny stumbled across a score for another opera, The Dreamy Kid. Incomplete, the opera was close to being fully realized. Johnson’s materials included a complete first draft with the instrumental music represented in short score, a partial second draft of about a quarter of the opera, and an orchestral prelude. The first draft contained notations about orchestration and about planned alterations, including lengthening or reducing parts of the piece and interpolation of new elements. With the addition of the second draft, Dapogny had guidance on Johnson’s planned revisions for the rest of the opera to complete its reconstruction.

The play The Dreamy Kid was originally written by Eugene O´Neill in 1918 for the Provincetown Players. It was not considered to be a success. The Dreamy Kid is named after its central character, a young man on the run from the law for killing a white man. Torn between freedom and love, Dreamy must choose between comforting his dying grandmother, who raised him, or almost certainly getting caught. Johnson set the play virtually word for word.

Johnson had hoped and planned to perform these one-act operas on a single evening — The Dreamy Kid followed by De Organizer. The works each depict an important epoch in African-American history – De Organizer showing oppressed farmers in the rural South and The Dreamy Kid the result of Black migration to the industrial North where economic opportunities for African-Americans were not as great as hoped and crime became a path for some. The UM Opera Theatre performances will fulfill Johnson’s dream with the premiere staging of both operas.

Joining Molnár and Kiesler on the artistic team are Vincent Mountain, scenic designer, and Christianne Myers as costume designer. Guest Michael Lincoln designs lights for Jackie O and Department of Theatre & Drama undergraduate student Andrew Fritsch designs lights for The Dreamy Kid and De Organizer. Also on the artistic staff for Jackie O are Kristin Fosdick, video designer and Melissa Beck Matjias, Jarel Waters, and Evan Faas, choreographers. Natalie Malotke choreographs for De Organizer.

Ticket prices are $22 and $16 reserved seating with students only $9 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9 AM – 5 PM, Monday through Friday and 10 AM – 1 PM on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at The Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, located at 911 N. University, is handicapped accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement.



Click here to view the program from The Dreamy Kid and De Organizer.



The Dreamy Kid
Minnita daniel-Cox
elizabeth gray and lori hicks
Minnita Daniel-Cox
Elizabeth Gray and Lori Hicks
Minnita daniel-cox and lori hicks
lori hicks
Minnita Daniel-Cox and Lori Hicks
Lori Hicks
Lonel woods
elizabeth gray and lonel woods
Lonel Woods
Elizabeth Gray and Lonel Woods
minnita daniel-cox and lonel woods
lonel woods
Minnita Daniel-Cox and Lonel Woods
Lonel Woods
De Organizer
Kennth kellogg
Emery Stephens
Kenneth Kellogg
Emery Stephens
Olivia duval
lonel woods
Olivia Duval
Lonel Woods
Monique D Holmes
Monique D Holmes
darnell ismel
Darnell Ishmel
Monique d holmes and darnell ishmel
Branden cs Hood
Monique D Holmes and Darnell Ishmel
Branden C S Hood


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Photography Credits:

U-M Photo Services

Joe Welsh

Peter Smith

David Smith

Glen Behring

Tom Bower