UD professor, mother weaves a dynamic, inspired life

Soprano established the Dunbar Music Archive.

Credit: Hannah Kasper Levinson/Contributed

Credit: Hannah Kasper Levinson/Contributed

Minnita Daniel-Cox, soprano and scholar, arrived at the University of Dayton in 2009. “God will plant a little idea in my head and I’ll say ‘well I can’t do that, that’s too perfect’. It’s the most ridiculous thing. I say to my students all the time, ‘You’d be amazed at how much you get when you just say, actually, I want that exact thing’. If it’s meant to be for you, nobody’s going to take it.”

Daniel-Cox cut through the noise and is currently the tenured Associate Professor of Voice and Coordinator of the Voice Area. ”Transition is fun. It’s a roller coaster — hang on! And then enjoy the wind in your hair. Because there’s so much that is amazing about transition, and so much possibility. I live in that.”

In 2014, Daniel-Cox established the Dunbar Music Archive, an online searchable database of texts set to music by poet and Dayton native Paul Laurence Dunbar. “He was the Michael Jackson of his time. He established the African American literary voice. We just don’t know him now — he’s disappeared into the fabric. I call him your favorite poet’s favorite poet.”


“My mom’s a pianist and singer. I grew up sitting under a piano at Oakley Baptist Church in Columbus. My faith is still a huge part of who I am and why I do what I do. God gives you everything you need, and there’s nothing wasted in His economy.”


“Generational wealth, I don’t have it. But guess how I got mine? Dunbar. When I got the Mellon Foundation grant and the National Endowment for the Humanities grant two years ago, it erased the deficit of generational wealth for me. I am three generations removed from slavery. My Dunbar research has been life altering personally, professionally, and in terms of my performing and teaching.”

Credit: Hannah Kasper Levinson/Contributed

Credit: Hannah Kasper Levinson/Contributed


Daniel-Cox lives in a mid-century modern custom ranch 5 minutes from the historic Paul Laurence Dunbar House on the West Side of Dayton. “My day starts with getting up with my kids. I have two children. My son, Aaron, is 7 and my daughter, Laylah, is 12. My babies. All of our alarms go off at 6. I have to get dressed and get them dressed. They moved up the drop off time to 7:20 this year. It hurts. Usually, it’s me. If Aaron (Sr., who drives trucks) is home, oh blessed day — he takes the kids to school.”


“We get up and there’s usually music playing. You gotta set the tone for your day. There was definitely Renée Fleming this morning. There was also definitely Lil Wayne. There was REO Speedwagon. And Beyoncé, Saint Beyoncé.” They eat breakfast and she drops off the kids at school.


Still early in the morning, it’s off to UD for office hours. Daniel-Cox has transformed her office into a sanctuary of colorful textiles, recital posters, and the warm scent of perfume oil. She has administrative leadership and uses this time for emails and curricular planning. “Since the pandemic, I have implemented some virtual office hours. The pandemic increased accessibility in a way that I am absolutely here for. It was a game changer for the single moms who have to schlep everywhere.”


Daniel-Cox follows up administrative duties with three applied voice lessons in her studio. “I often teach voice teachers. I have a partnership with the Blaine Block Institute for Vocal Analysis and Rehabilitation, so they often send me students who’ve worked through rehab. I went through a vocal injury in grad school and got obsessed with it and I love to rehab voices. Lessons are a half hour to 45 minutes, an hour for more advanced.”

Credit: Robert Peavler

Credit: Robert Peavler


Then there are meetings — “a National Endowment/Mellon Foundation meeting over Zoom with my colleagues at St. Louis University and Princeton and all of us UD folks. (Colleagues from) Computer Science, Library, History — we all meet and talk about different facets of the grant. We train UD faculty about ways to incorporate Dunbar into their courses. We’re designing the larger Dunbar Library and Archive, which includes an upgrade with the glossary embedded in the poetry. It’s so pretty! I saw it and cried a little bit.”

“I have a meeting with my research assistants and the co-directors of the team. We have faculty and voice area meetings here regularly.”

“Then I have a voice area Master class. Voice area refers to all the voice majors, the singers. I love voice. I love the pedagogy, the technique. My UD teaching is usually 8-10 students per semester in addition to my coordinating and performing. I also keep a thriving community studio.”


“I don’t plan lunch. It doesn’t even cross my mind. I buy smoothies and will throw three in my bag at the beginning of the day. I have my first big meal with my kids after I pick them up from school.”


Aaron and Laylah get out of school at 2:30 and 3:15. “Very often I pick up my kids, and if I have to work that evening, they come with Mom. I’ll pull up YouTube, we’ll get snacks. They’ve sat through many a Dayton Philharmonic rehearsal or a Bach Society of Dayton rehearsal.”

“I don’t go anywhere I can’t bring my kids. They’re gonna see Mom work, and we have the moments in between. I was no slouch, I had my doctorate (from the University of Michigan) by the time I was 27. But my daughter was born, and I was like, ‘What have I been doing?’. I gave birth to my son and didn’t stop the tenure clock. They are my ‘why’. They hang out in the dressing rooms and in classrooms. That exposure is what brought me into this life. My mother took me to every rehearsal.”


They head back home after rehearsal. “I’m an excellent cook, but I don’t always have the mental space and physical energy. If I have to choose between spending an hour in the kitchen getting food ready for my kids or hanging out with my kids where we wait for the food to get delivered — you have to pick those battles as a working mom.”

“I didn’t want chicken nugget kids, and I have sushi kids — it’s my blessing and my curse. When you come from generations of improvement, my kids have a life I never had. My kids are snobs to me (laughs). They have the life we as parents wanted for them.

“We like to play a card question game at the table. It’s a way for me to get them to talk.” Questions like, ‘What do you like most about yourself?’. I learn about my kids and we share stories. Sometimes we’ll play the song quiz game on Alexa.”


“Bedtime for the kids is 8. If I’m lucky, I get to take a bath. I have a big stained glass window next to my sunken Roman bathtub. It was the reason I bought this house! I mounted the TV from the ceiling. I spend way too much time in that tub.”


“I bought a carpet shampooer last night and got really excited and stayed up late shampooing the carpet until 2 in the morning. That’s the party at age 42.”

Find more about Dr. Minnita Daniel-Cox at www.minnitadaniel-cox.com.

The Dunbar Music Archive is located at https://ecommons.udayton.edu/dunbar/.

You can reach this writer at hannah.kasper@gmail.com.

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