John Michael Cooper
6 min readFeb 22


The Margaret Bonds / W.E.B. Du Bois Credo Returns to Its Roots

Margaret Bonds’s relationship with her father was complicated but rich — more so on both counts than is generally known. And when the choral/orchestral version of Bonds’s setting of W.E.B. Du Bois’s iconic civil-rights Credo receives its first performance in Texas this weekend, the world will be treated to a remarkable display of a little-known gift that the composer received from her father. That gift was — to trope James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson -Margaret Bonds’s commitment to lift her voice and sing, ’til earth and heaven ring, loud as the rolling seas, a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us and the hope that the present has brought us, ’til victory is won.

To understand this gift, we need to understand that Bonds’s father, Monroe Alpheus Majors, was not only a well-respected doctor, but also a fierce and intrepid racial-justice warrior and a champion specifically of Black women. He was born in the final year of the U.S. Civil War in the slaveholding state of Texas, in Waco, just an hour north of where this weekend’s performance will take place; the youngest son of Andrew Jackson and Jane Barringer Majors, he took his mother’s surname in life (just as his daughter Margaret Bonds would later do). He attended Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in Austin (1878–83) and then earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Central Tennessee College in Nashville (1883–86), also working as a newspaper reporter. He began practicing medicine in 1886 and — in a world whose White medical associations barred Black members — became the driving force in the founding of the Lone Star State Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association, but had to flee the area because he was targeted by racist hate groups. He moved to Los Angeles (eventual home to Margaret Bonds) in 1888, there becoming the first Black physician to practice medicine west of the Rocky Mountains, and the following year he returned to Waco, lecturing in hygiene and sanitation at Paul Quinn College and founding a hospital for Blacks. In 1893 he published the book Noted Negro Women: Their Triumphs and Activities, and in that same year he worked in Chicago’s recently founded Provident Hospital. With characteristic fearlessness, he then returned to Waco, where he successfully fought public dissemination of an anti-Black newspaper, then later practiced medicine in Decatur, Illinois, Indianapolis, Waco (yet again!), and Chicago, where he became a close friend of Paul Laurence Dunbar (whose poem Sunset Margaret Bonds would set in the 1930s[1]). His ability to practice medicine ended abruptly when he awoke one morning in 1925 to find himself nearly totally blind, but he continued his support of racial-justice organizations nationwide, becoming a member of the NAACP, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (an organization whose command is to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan”), the Order of the Knights of Pythias, and the 32nd Degree (Scottish Rite) Freemasons. He returned to Los Angeles in 1933 and remained there until his death in 1960. In 1955 he was the subject of a lengthy and detailed biographical article by W. Montague Cobb in the Journal of the National Medical Association (Vol. 47, no. 2, pp. 139–41).

Now, as we’ve noted, Bonds’s relationship with Dr. Majors was complicated. The doctor and her mother, Estella C. Bonds, divorced when Margaret was just four. Most narratives, including Dr. Helen Walker-Hill’s groundbreaking chapter on Margaret Bonds in her book From Spirituals to Symphonies: African American Women and Their Music, drop Dr. Majors from the narrative of Bonds’s life at that point.

But that portrayal is misleading. In 1928, for example, the two, inspired by Herbert Hoover’s inclusion of an anti-lynching platform in his presidential campaign, collaborated to produce Margaret Bonds’s earliest surviving song: We’re All for Hoover Today — lyrics by Monroe Majors, music by Margaret Bonds. And the Margaret Bonds papers in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture contain a number of letters from father to daughter that are as warm and loving as one might expect in any father-to-daughter letters. Although Margaret Bonds’s replies have not survived, Dr. Majors’s letters make clear that she did respond — most likely, given his near-total blindness after 1925, by telephone.

Those telephone calls are lost to us forever, of course — but the fruits of the passionate and intrepid commitment to the cause of racial justice that Bonds inherited from her own father are not. And this week, the seeds sown by Dr. Majors return home, as Dr. Lois Ferrari conducts the Southwestern University Chorale (directed by Dr. Holly Dalrymple) and the Austin Civic Orchestra in a performance of the choral capstone of Bonds’s career-long quest to further the cause of racial justice and global equality. The stunningly beautiful second movement, “Especially do I believe in the Negro race,” will feature soprano soloist Natalie Joy Howard; and the radiant and expansive sixth movement, “I believe in liberty” (which also features some of the most gorgeous choral writing in the entire repertoire), will feature baritone Chaz Nailor. That performance will be the first performance of the choral/orchestral version of the Credo in Dr. Majors’s home state of Texas, and will take place in Georgetown, about halfway between his birth home of Waco and his alma mater in Austin.

It’s an important event. I asked the directors if they wanted to comment on it — and not surprisingly, they did.

From Dr. Dalrymple:

And from Dr. Ferrari:

One more word about the extraordinary gift that Dr. Majors gave Margaret Bonds, and that she gifted to us, to our world: the Credo is a musical social-justice manifesto the likes of which the world had never seen before, and has never seen since. Now central-Texas audiences are being gifted with the opportunity to hear that masterpiece in the very soil in which the Bondsian quest for justice rooted — and better than that, the students of the Southwestern University Chorale are receiving the opportunity to lift their voices in song in that same quest for justice. These fortunate students have an opportunity see and sing the musical landscape of our time as one that does not exclude W.E.B. Du Bois, Monroe Majors, and Margaret Bonds, but includes them.

That is a very great gift indeed.


The Texas premiere of the choral/orchestral version of the Bonds/Du Bois Credo takes place on Saturday, February 25, at 7:30 p.m. in the Alma Thomas Theatre of the Sarofim School of Fine Arts at Southwestern University (Georgetown, Texas). The concert will also feature music by Ayanna Woods (performed by the Pearl Amster Percussion Chamber Ensemble), Édouard Lalo (the second movement of his Cello Concerto, featuring cellist Prudence McDaniel), and Florence B. Price (an orchestral arrangement of the second movement from her G-major String Quartet). Tickets are available here.

[1] Though never even mentioned in any of the literature on Bonds, Sunset survives and is to be published later in 2023 as part of Hildegard Publishing Company’s Margaret Bonds Signature Series.

Originally published at https://cooperm55.wixsite.com on February 22, 2023.



John Michael Cooper

A musicologist with a passion for social justice, bringing unheard music to life for performers and listeners, and teaching.