The items in this online exhibition evoke the stories of American women through the ages.
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Original score, Tom-Tom, by Shirley Graham Du Bois, 1932

Photo by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe Institute

Photo by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe Institute


The activist, writer, playwright, and composer Shirley Graham Du Bois (ca. 1896–1977) created the three-act musical drama Tom-Tom, whose score you see here, which opened in Cleveland in 1932 to great acclaim. Tom-Tom was one of the first operas—perhaps the first—written by an African American woman.

Shirley Graham married W. E. B. Du Bois in 1951, and together they worked to improve the lot of underrepresented groups in the United States. When their involvement with the Communist Party resulted in government harassment, they emigrated to Ghana, where Shirley Graham Du Bois pioneered the development of Ghana Television. After her husband’s death, in 1963, and a 1966 coup in Ghana, Du Bois moved to Cairo, Egypt, where she continued to work for the liberation of people of color worldwide.

Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library

Catalog record:


Learn more:

View the complete digitized score of Tom-Tom.

Read the Harvard Gazette article about Tom-Tom.

Find out more about Shirley Graham Du Bois.

Read "The Musical Life of Shirley Graham Du Bois."

See the Schlesinger Library's research guides on musicians and on film and theater.

Heather Min