Skip to main content

Geneva H. Southall papers

Identifier: Manuscript Collection No. 1004

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the papers of Geneva H. Southall from 1860-2007 [bulk 1945-2007] and includes personal papers, research and writings files, musician files, writings by others, photographs and scrapbooks, printed material and audiovisual material. Personal papers contain letters, invitations, and professional correspondence, programs, and awards. Research and writings include notes, research files and writings documenting Southall’s biography of composer “Blind Tom” Moore. Musician files consists of manuscript scores, articles, correspondence, and programs of African American composers including Edward Boatner, William Grant Still and Hall Johnson. Writings by others include drafts of scripts by playwrights including Barbara Molette and Carlton Molette and James Hatch. The bulk of printed material consists of programs from Southall’s participation with the National Association of Negro Musicians including correspondence, conference materials and programs. Audiovisual material consists primarily of sound recordings collected by Southall of African American composers and musicians.


  • 1860-2007
  • Majority of material found within [ 1945-2007]

Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Restrictions on Access

Special restrictions apply: Access to processed born digital materials is only available in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (the Rose Library). Use of the original digital media is restricted.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Printed or manuscript music in this collection that is still under copyright protection and is not in the Public Domain may not be photocopied or photographed. Researchers must provide written authorization from the copyright holder to request copies of these materials.

Biographical Note

Frances Geneva Handy Southall was born December 5, 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The second of five children born to the Reverend W.T. (William Talbot) Handy, Jr. and Dorothy Pauline Handy, Geneva began learning to play piano at age nine. She graduated from high school in 1941 and enrolled at Dillard University that same year. Geneva, who was active in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and wrote for the school newspaper, majored in music at Dillard.

Upon graduating from the university in 1945, she moved to Los Angeles where she took a position working at the Gray Conservatory of Music teaching lessons and studying with conservatory owner, musician John Gray. It was in Los Angeles that Geneva met dental student Patrick Rhone, and the two married in 1946. In 1948, when she became pregnant with the couple's daughter, Patricia (Tisch), she moved in with her in-laws, who were doctors in Oklahoma City. She was joined by her husband when he finished dental school at UCLA. The family moved back and forth between Oklahoma City and New Orleans, where Geneva opened a studio and gave private instruction.

In 1952 Patrick was diagnosed with glomerulonephritis, a kidney ailment, and the family again relocated to Oklahoma City. He died in 1954, at the age of twenty-nine. Later that year, she entered into a Master's program at the American Conservatory in Chicago. Around this time Geneva married composer Mitchell Southall, but the pair divorced six months later.

In 1957 she accepted a teaching position in Waco, Texas at Paul Quinn College where she worked for one year to save money before beginning work on her Ph.D. at the University of Iowa, the only school awarding the degree in music at the time. Southall insisted on paying her own way through the program, and took up yearlong teaching positions at Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee and South Carolina State College in Orangeburg, South Carolina, to continue paying for her education. While in Orangeburg she became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, taking part in marches and protests before returning to Iowa to finish her degree. When she graduated in 1966, Southall was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in piano performance.

After graduating, Southall returned to Louisiana and accepted a position at Grambling College (currently Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana). While there she began to research the composer and pianist "Blind Tom" Moore, about whom she wrote three books: Blind Tom: the Post-Civil War Enslavement of a Black Musical Genius (1979), The Continuing Enslavement of Blind Tom: the Black Pianist-Composer (1983), and Tom, the Black Pianist Composer: Continually Enslaved (1999).

In 1970 Southall joined the faculty at University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minnesota). A faculty member in both the Music and newly formed African American Studies departments, Southall moved away from teaching piano and taught classes in music history and music theory and served as chair of the African American Studies department. She also worked within the African American community in Minneapolis to establish the Black Music Educators of the Twin Cities. The organization promoted performances by African American musicians, provided a professional network and offered assistance for youth in the community studying music. She retired from teaching in 1992.

Southall continued performing piano in various musical groups and combinations throughout her life. She also wrote essays and lectures about African American music and its history. Among her awards and citations are: "National Woman of the Year" by Iota Phi Lambda sorority; "Outstanding Leadership Award" from the Minneapolis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; "Distinguished Achievement Award" from the National Association of Negro Musicians; "Distinguished Alumni Award" from Dillard University; and the "Positive Image Award" from the Minneapolis Urban League Street Academy. The University of Minnesota, Minneapolis African American and African Studies department named their library in her honor.

Southall died January 2, 2004, in Iowa City, Iowa from complications from a stroke.


26.25 linear feet (52 boxes); 7 oversized papers boxes (OP); 32 bound volumes (BV); AV Masters: 4.75 linear feet (7 boxes); 3.2 MB born digital material (9 files)


Papers of African American musician, educator, activist and author Geneva H. Southall, including personal papers, research and writing files, writings by others, musician files relating to African American composers, photographs and scrapbooks, printed material, and audiovisual material.

Arrangement Note

Organized into eight series: (1) Personal papers, (2) Research and writing files, (3) Musician files, (4) Writings by others, (5) Photographs and scrapbooks, (6) Printed material, (7) Audiovisual material and (8) Born digital material.


Purchase, 2005.


File name: southall1004.doc


Processed by Amber L. Moore, Tricia Hersey, and Jason Gutierrez, 2014.

Born digital materials processed, arranged, and described by Brenna Edwards and Zhexiong Liu, 2019-2020. Born digital materials include files taken from three 3.5" floppy disks. For information as to how these materials were processed, see the processing note in the description of series 8, Born digital materials.

File name: southall1004.doc

This finding aid may include language that is offensive or harmful. Please refer to the Rose Library's harmful language statement for more information about why such language may appear and ongoing efforts to remediate racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, euphemistic and other oppressive language. If you are concerned about language used in this finding aid, please contact us at

Geneva H. Southall papers
Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
June 23, 2006
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • June 27, 2014: Finding aid revised
  • July 29, 2015: Finding aid revised to include enhanced metadata tagging.

Repository Details

Part of the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library Repository

540 Asbury Circle
Atlanta Georgia 30322 United States