NOLA4Women: Jessie Covington Dent: Pianist, Community Leader and First Lady of Dillard University


Ernestine Jessie Covington Dent was a concert pianist, educator, community leader and the wife of Albert Walter Dent, President of Dillard University (1941-1969). She was born on May 19, 1904 in Houston, Texas and was the only child of Dr. Benjamin Jesse and Jennie Bell (nee Murphy) Covington, a prominent African American family in Houston. At the age of two, she showed signs of musical talent and began piano and violin lessons at the age of five. She received her first musical training under the tutorship of Madame Corilla Rochon, Houston’s oldest and most popular music teacher. She also studied violin under Willie Nickerson, brother of the famed singer Camille Nickerson. Following her education in the public schools of Houston, Texas, Jessie entered the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music in Ohio in 1920 where she graduated in 1924 with a Bachelor of Music degree.

Jessie married Albert Walter Dent in 1931 and moved to New Orleans in 1932 when her husband became Superintendent of Flint-Goodridge Hospital. Jessie wasted no time inculcating herself into the New Orleans social scene. She became a charter member of the Flint-Goodridge Hospital Women’s Auxiliary and in 1956, based on her suggestion; the Ebony Fashion Fair was created to help raise funds to support the hospital. The Ebony Fashion Fair would evolve into a major event that introduced haute couture to African American audiences on an annual basis. Jessie also became an active member of Central Congregational Church and the Dillard University community. In 1936, she was one of eleven charter members of the Alpha Eta Sigma Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She also assisted in establishing two undergraduate chapters of Delta Sigma Theta, the Beta Gamma Chapter at Dillard University in 1937 and the Gamma Alpha Chapter at Xavier University in 1940.

From 1971-1976 Jessie served as a board member of the New Orleans Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. She was instrumental in integrating orchestra concerts in New Orleans. Throughout her adult life, she supported the effort of minority classical musicians to increase their number in major symphony orchestras and in teaching positions. In 1998, the Jessie Covington Dent Music Festival was created at Dillard University in her honor. Jessie died on March 10, 2001 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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