Manet Harrison Fowler, African-American singer, educator, and artist, was born in Fort Worth on August 30, 1895. She was the daughter of Taylor Henry and Carrie (Vickers) Harrison and the eldest of eight children. Her parents were originally from Louisiana, and her mother was of Creole ancestry. Harrison displayed an amazing musical aptitude at a very young age. At age four, she performed at the family’s local Baptist church. By age six she had become proficient enough on piano to accompany adult choirs. She began formal piano studies at age seven under Jeanie Marie Rowe. Harrison graduated with highest honors from (what is now) I. M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth. She attended Tuskegee Institute in 1912 and studied under George Washington Carver. She graduated from that institution in 1913 and subsequently studied at the Chicago Musical College. In Chicago she also studied painting at the Art Institute and trained as a soprano under Eva Brown at the American Conservatory.
Back in Texas, she taught music at Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College. She married Stephen Hamilton Fowler of Fort Worth on July 28, 1915; they had five children. Manet Fowler played an active role in civic affairs and in the advancement of arts and culture in Fort Worth’s African-American community. She became a director of the Mt. Gilead Baptist Church choir in that city and was a cofounder of the Texas Association of Negro Musicians in 1926. Fowler later became a board member and secretary of the National Association of Negro Musicians. She wrote pageants for benefits for the YMCA; her husband had founded the black YMCA in Fort Worth.
Fowler founded the Mwalimu School in Fort Worth in 1928. The word “mwalimu” translates as “the teacher” in an African language. The school provided instruction of the arts for African Americans. Music education included courses in piano, notation, sight singing, ear training, church music, public school music, and terminology. A Mwalimu choir gave performances.
An accomplished composer, Fowler wrote a musical The Voice for the National Baptist Convention in Chicago in 1930. She wrote a symphonic poem “Come Let Us Sing!” for the honor students of I. M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth, and she was featured in music and debate programs in the school from 1930 to 1932. Fowler was also an artist, and her oil paintings and watercolors portrayed civil rights and religious themes as well as landscapes and portraits.
In 1932 Fowler relocated her Mwalimu School to Harlem in New York. There, she directed the Mwalimu choir in numerous performances. The Dallas Morning News published a story about a performance of the chorus, conducted by Fowler, at New York’s Steinway Hall in March 1934. The presentation included selections of African music and several songs sung in the Yoruba language of West Africa. Her school played a key role in the Harlem Renaissance.
Fowler’s daughter, Manet Helen Fowler, became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology in the United States. The two continued to stay involved in professional activities in Fort Worth and Tarrant County. Her husband died in New York in 1965. Manet Harrison Fowler died in February 1976 in New York. Her papers are located in collections at Yale University and Emory University. Several of her watercolor paintings are on exhibit at the Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth.
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