By Raven Jordan

Pamela Dawson [who has taught for 16 years and is the choir director at DeSoto High School] won the 2023 Grammy Music Educator Award. This was the second time in three years Dawson was nominated for the award after the selection was narrowed down to 10 finalists.

“It’s surreal,” Dawson says. “I wake up in the middle of the night like, did I just experience that? Was I just at the Grammys?” 

The Music Educator Award recognizes current educators who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the music education field, and demonstrate a commitment to maintaining music education in schools.

What many might not know is that It’s been an award category for 10 years. Dawson was nominated for the award by a grandparent last year.

On Wednesday, we got to see her back in action in the classroom after a few days spent in Los Angeles. She’d just arrived on a flight back to Dallas the night before.

Long before her Grammy recognition, Dawson was leading her students to numerous choir competitions and winning. The choir has even been regulars at Dallas Black Dance Theater’s DanceAfrica for several years, according to DeSoto ISD

“She doesn’t just teach, she guides and provides what you need outside of the classroom,” Elijah Mitchell, a junior student says. “I’ve used her teachings outside the classroom.” 

DeSoto High School student Elijah Mitchell. Photo by Raven Jordan

Though Dawson couldn’t share the details of her nomination with her students (she had to keep it confidential until the Recording Academy shared it), some of her students weren’t surprised once they saw the news.

“She made me proud, I know she deserved it,” Mitchell said. “Everybody expected it.”

Other students, like seniors Erica Howell and Tiyana Bailey have pointed to their choir director as inspiration for pursuing some aspect of music in their future careers.

“She’s been my biggest inspiration,” Howell says. “She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and I’m very thankful that I’ve had her and that she’s been in my life, because if she wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t have been as serious as I am about pursuing music in the future.”

DeSoto High School students Tiyana Bailey and Erica Howell. Photo by Raven Jordan

“She’s so dramatic, but she’s a beautiful individual. She makes me want to work harder, especially with all the trips— if you’re not passing, you’re not going,” Bailey says. “I’ll either be a music teacher or an English teacher, mainly because Ms. Dawson made a big impact on my life and she made me feel good.”

In addition to being seen as an influential educator, her students have also come to see her as someone they can go to for support.

“I just feel like I have that big mother’s heart, and they feel like I’m a mama. That’s why they call me Mama Dawson, or Mama D. We need somebody to listen to us.”

Before she made a life for herself as a choir director in DeSoto, Dawson was born and raised in Detroit. Her music journey began when she was still a child, four years old and shaped by the music of harpist Dorothy Ashby and her father, she says. 

Now she can’t imagine her life without music.

“I think music has always been a part of me,” she says. “When I started teaching and giving back is when it changed my life.” 

Though the sudden increase in attention and publicity has been overwhelming, Dawson has figured out how to deal with it as she would any day.

“When it first started happening, I was like, “Oh My God, I can’t do this.” Then I had to stop and breathe. I have an overwhelming day all the time. What I had to realize is stop, adjust and just deal with this like you do every day.”