Dr. Alia Lawson, professor emeritus of music education and founder of the Converse pre-college department which bears her name, passed away Sunday, Jan. 22 at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center from complications of a stroke. She was 93. A memorial service was held Tuesday, Jan. 24 at First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg, and included a special pre-service music session honoring her lifelong career and love of music.
“It is difficult to consider Converse College without Alia Lawson. For over a half century, she played a vital role in the development of music and art education and appreciation at Converse and throughout the greater community of Spartanburg,” said Converse President Betsy Fleming. “Her love of music and learning fueled a similar passion in generations of students and friends. Her influence shaped many lives and careers. She is beloved by all who knew or worked with her. Having grown up in Spartanburg and taken music and dance lessons through the pre-college department, I only know Spartanburg and Converse in the company of Alia. Her passing is a loss for the entire community, but her legacy and her love of the arts will live on through the Alia Lawson Pre-College Program at Converse College. Alia inspires us all to make music an integral part of our daily lives.”
A native of Greensboro, N.C., Dr. Lawson came to Converse in 1943 as a professor of music education and theory and began a 40-year tenure at the college. In 1944, she founded the pre-college department which offers instruction in music and dance to people of all ages from throughout the Upstate. In 1998, the program was re-named The Alia Lawson Pre-College Program of Music and Dance. To this day, nearly 900 students participate in the program’s offerings annually. She also directed the Converse Chorale, Converse’s all female chorus that performs several concerts annually.
Dr. Lawson served as president of the Spartanburg Philharmonic and the Spartanburg Music Teachers Association, chairman of the Arts Partnership of Spartanburg, chairman of the Spartanburg County Foundation for Music and Arts, and secretary and life member of the Ballet Guild of Spartanburg. She was also a member of numerous music clubs and federations.
Her awards and honors are abundant, and include the Doctor of Humane Letters from Greensboro College, the Spartanburg Technical College Women’s History Award and a Life Member Award from the National Federation of Music Clubs. Converse College named her an honorary alumna in 1990 and presented her with the Dexter Edgar Converse Award, the college’s highest honor, in 1995. In 1999, the Spartanburg Arts Partnership presented her with its highest honor, the David W. Reid Award.