African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Otto Leland Bohanan (1895-1932): Poems and Author Profile

Otto Leland Bohanan (1895-1932) [sometimes spelled as "Bohannon"] was an accomplished poet, musician, and educator. Bohanan was a significant contributor to African American poetry in the 1910s. A graduate from M Street High School in Washington, DC and Howard University, he taught literature at Catholic University, and music at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City (as cited in The Crisis, April 1930). Bohanan published several poems in The Crisisand had two poems included in the influential 1922 anthology, The Book of American Negro Poetry. His best-known poem might be "The Dawn's Awake," (1917), which carries a strong sense of optimism and hope that aligns with the tone of the activist community associated with The Crisis. 

There are at least two mentions of Otto Bohanan in the Howard University yearbook, NIKH. There are mentions of Bohanan's club memberships in the 1914 issue. The 1915 issue of NIKH has Bohanan's poem, "On Rankin Chapel." In "The Looking Glass" column from the August 1, 1916 edition of The Crisis, Du Bois also makes mention of a Howard University literary magazine called The Stylus, to which Bohanan was briefly a contributor. 

As a composer, Bohanan has a 1935 entry in the Catalog of Copyright Entries for "Why Does the Flaming Rose." After his untimely death in 1932, he was also credited by J. Eddie Edwards in the New York Age as a "co-author with me of 'Ramblin Rose,' a musical play of which he composed the complete music score." (New York Age, December 24, 1932). Bohanan also apparently had a career as a singer in New York City; he is listed as a performer in the first performance of Harry Lawrence Freeman's 1928 opera, "Voodoo," as staged and broadcast on the radio on station WGBS on May 20, 1928 (source). 

According to WorldCat, ten of Bohanan's original musical scores are held in mansucript form at the University of Pennsylvania. There are also brief mentions of Bohanan as a vocalist in The Crisis and The Washington Bee, which described him in 1921 as a "pupil of Franz Armbruster" and as a "rising young baritone singer with a rich tone voice, who will be heard from in the near future" (Washington Bee, October 1, 1921). 

Under the spelling "Bohannon," the fraternity Omega Psi Phi has an entry on the poet that focuses on his interest in music: 

Music has always played an important part in the history of Alpha Chapter. One of the architects of that foundation was Bro. Otto Bohannon. [Brother] Otto was an astute literary writer at Howard authoring a celebrated poem entitled "Washer Woman." A DC native and transfer from Catholic University, Bro. Otto graduated from HU in 1914 with a BA. After graduation, Bro. Otto turned down a position to teach English at Howard to devote his career to music. Such a talent was [Brother] Otto, an article in the Afro American proclaimed he "possessed of a voice of unusual range and quality he sang in nine languages."  In 1928, he received his Master in Music from Columbia University and later received his PhD from the same institution.  So profound were [Brother] Otto's talents as a poet, composer and artist, he was asked by his former Chapter Brother, Grand Basileus Clarence F. Holmes (Alpha 1914) to write and compose the first fraternity hymn, "Omega Men Draw Nigh" in 1917. At the time of his death, Bro. Otto was a music teacher for DeWitt Clinton HS in NYC and was on the brink of achieving his life's ambition of entering the concert field.  (source)


Contents of this path: