Nancy L. Dupree was a schoolteacher in Rochester, New York who came to the North with hopes of teaching America’s future. In her short time as a teacher, Ms. Dupree injected radical ideas into her daily curriculum which culminated in the release of a rare album featuring her students singing about the Black Power Movement.
Dupree was born in 1935 in Sumter, South Carolina. The Virginia State College and Mills College graduate took her talents to Rochester, hoping the environment would be different from the blatant racism she grew up with in the South. She soon realized things were not much better in upstate New York.
While Dupree was expected to teach a standard curriculum at School No. 4 in Rochester, the mostly-Black student body didn’t respond well to the lessons. Part of predominantly white staff, Dupree a Christian turned Muslim who embraced strong Afrocentric views starting incorporating those ideals into her classroom.
Instead of the usual lessons, Dupree directed her students to sing, write and learn about experiences that felt familiar to them. This would eventually lead to the release of a 1969 album titled Ghetto Reality featuring Dupree on piano with students from her class singing loving odes to James Brown, MLK and others. She was also able to bring figures such as Muhammad Ali, B.B. King and Roland Kirk to visit her school.
Dupree was fired from School No. 4 for refusing to wearing standard high heels in 1970. She is said to have connected with the Black Panther Party and was writing poetry and plays. She died in 1980 after secretly hiding the fact she was battling leukemia. She was 44.
Tracks from the Ghetto Reality album began making rounds on funk and soul mixes from various sources, sparking many fans to dig deep into the audio archives. The songs are digitally available now via the Smithsonian Folk Ways Recordings site.