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Jessye Norman

Opera singer Jessye Norman was born on September 15, 1945 in Augusta, Georgia to Janie King Norman and Silas Norman. She graduated from Augusta’s Lucy C. Laney Senior High School. Following her participation in Philadelphia’s Marian Anderson Vocal Competition in 1960, Norman received a full-tuition scholarship to attend Howard University, where she completed her B.M. degree in 1967. She then earned her M.M. degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1968.

After Norman won the ARD International Music Competition in Munich, Germany in 1969, Egon Seefehlner invited her to perform as Elisabeth in Tannhauser with Deutsche Oper Berlin. She signed a three-year contract with the opera company and, in 1970, she performed in Deborah, followed by L’Africaine and Le nozze di Figaro at the Berlin Festival. In 1972, Norman sang Verdi’s Aida at La Scala in Milan. Norman continued to perform internationally as a soloist and recitalist. She returned to the stage, performing in Oedipus rex and Dido and Aeneas with the Opera Company of Philadelphia in 1982. The following year, Norman performed at the Metropolitan Opera for its 100th anniversary season. Following a 1987 performance with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Norman was featured in Erwartung, the Metropolitan Opera’s first single-character production, and Bluebeard’s Castle in 1989. In 1990, she performed in Tchaikovsky: 150th Birthday Gala from Leningrad along with Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. Her first appearance with the Lyric Opera of Chicago was in the title role of Alceste in 1990. She was cast as Jocasta in a televised production of Oedipus rex at the inaugural Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto in 1993, the same year she was featured in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Metropolitan Opera, followed by The Makropulos Case in 1996. In 1998, she performed at Carnegie Hall in Sacred Ellington, featuring music by Duke Ellington, and released a jazz crossover project, I Was Born in Love with You, with Michel Legrand. In 2002, she established the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, a tuition-free, after school arts program in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia. In collaboration with New York City cultural institutions, Norman curated Honor!: A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy in 2009. With seventy-five recordings to her credit, in 2010, Norman released Roots: My Life, My Song.

A five-time Grammy Award winner, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Norman has received forty-five honorary doctorate degrees, is a Kennedy Center Honoree and holds the National Medal of the Arts. Graduate fellowships at the University of Michigan’s School of Music have also been named in her honor. Norman serves as a spokesperson for The Partnership for the Homeless and was named an honorary ambassador to the United Nations. Additionally, she serves on the board of trustees of the New York Public Library, The New York Botanical Garden, The Dance Theatre of Harlem, Paine College and Carnegie Hall.

Jessye Norman was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 21, 2016 and April 27, 2017.

Accession Number

A2016.128

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/21/2016 |and| 04/27/2017

Last Name

Norman

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Walker Traditional Elementary School

A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet Middle and High School

Lucy C. Laney High School

University of Michigan

First Name

Jessye

Birth City, State, Country

Augusta

HM ID

NOR08

Favorite Season

Fall, song: God will take care of you.

State

Georgia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere there's an ocean

Favorite Quote

When people show you who they are, believe them.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

9/15/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Smoked salmon

Short Description

Opera singer Jessye Norman (1945- ) began performing with international and American opera companies in 1969. She received multiple Grammy awards, founded the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, and wrote a memoir, Stand Up Straight and Sing!, published in 2014.

Employment

Deutsche Oper Berlin

Teatro Communale

Temple University Music Festival

Various

Jessye Norman School for the Arts

Favorite Color

Yellow

Alexander Smalls

Restaurateur and opera singer Alexander Smalls was born on February 7, 1952 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He graduated from Spartanburg High School in 1970, and enrolled at Wofford College before transferring to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he received his B.F.A. degree in opera in 1974. He then attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between 1974 and 1977.

Upon graduation, Smalls, a classically trained baritone, toured professionally as an opera singer. As a member of the Houston Grand Opera, he performed in the George Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess, which earned Grammy and Tony Awards in 1977. Smalls studied opera and culinary arts in Europe; upon returning to the United States in the late 1970s, he founded his own catering business, Small Miracle. In 1994, Smalls launched his first restaurant, Café Beulah, in New York City, specializing in Southern Revival cooking that combined Gullah and international cuisines. Then, in 1996, Smalls opened Sweet Ophelia's, a casual dining venue featuring late-night, live entertainment in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. He went on to open The Shoebox Café, an upscale Southern bistro in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal; however, the restaurant closed in 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11. Smalls founded a second catering business, Smalls & Co., which served a celebrity clientele that included Denzel Washington, Spike Lee and Toni Morrison. In 2012, Smalls established Harlem Jazz Enterprises; and, in partnership with Richard Parsons, opened two restaurants in Harlem in 2013: Minton’s and The Cecil.

Smalls has appeared on television on NBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, and the Food Network, among others. He also served as a contributor to Food & Wine, The Washington Post, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Crain's New York Business. Smalls authored the memoir and cookbook Grace the Table: Stories and Recipes from My Southern Revival, which features a foreword from jazz musician Wynton Marsalis.

Smalls was the recipient of the Legacy Award given by Amsterdam News in 2014, and the C-Cap Honors Award given by C-Cap in 2015. He joined the board of the Harlem School of The Arts in 2014, and served as board chair of director of Opus 118 Music School from 2007 to 2009.

Alexander Smalls was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 20, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.021

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/20/2016

Last Name

Smalls

Maker Category
Middle Name

Bernard

Schools

Curtis Institute of Music

University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Wofford College

First Name

Alexander

Birth City, State, Country

Spartanburg

HM ID

SMA05

Favorite Season

Fall

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Africa

Favorite Quote

And There You Have It.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

2/7/1952

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Peanut Butter and Jelly, Franks and Beans

Short Description

Restaurateur and opera singer Alexander Smalls (1952 - ), the father of Southern Revival Cooking, has opened five restaurants in New York City: Café Beulah, Sweet Ophelia's, The Shoebox Café, Minton’s and The Cecil. He wrote the cookbook Grace the Table: Stories and Recipes from My Southern Revival.

Employment

Harlem Jazz Enterprises LLC

Smalls & Company

Shoebox Cafe

Sweet Ophelia

Cafe Buelah

Favorite Color

Yellow

Andrea Bradford

Opera singer Andrea Bradford was born on December 19, 1949 in Huntsville, Alabama, to Dr. Henry Bradford, Jr. and Nell Lane Bradford. Bradford attended St. Francis De Sales High School, an all-black boarding school in Powhatan, Virginia. She began her musical training at the age of five with the study of piano for fifteen years. A soprano, Bradford then began her vocal training in high school with Sister Mary Elise S.B.S., the co-founder of Opera Ebony in New York City. Upon graduating in 1966, she attended Oakwood College in Huntsville, before receiving her B.M. degree in vocal performance from Oberlin College Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio in 1970. She then earned her M.M.A. degree from Boston University College of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts in 1973.

Bradford joined the Opera Company of Boston in 1975, touring with its founder and conductor, Sarah Caldwell, throughout New England and Europe. During this period, Bradford also performed as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops Orchestra. Bradford appeared in productions of La traviata, The Barber of Seville, Madame Butterfly, Leroy Jenkins’ The Negro Burial Ground, and Three Willies. Between 1984 and 1988, Bradford worked as the manager of college recruiting for Bain & Company. In 1988, she became the vice president and executive recruiter for Isaacson, Miller. Then, in 1990, Bradford performed in the Opera Company of Boston’s production of The Balcony by Robert Di Domenica, originating the role of Chantal for the world premiere. She performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia in 1991, and in the Boston Lyric Opera production of Lost in the Stars in 1992. From 1992 to 1994, Bradford worked as the assistant director of admissions for Berklee College of Music in Boston, before serving as director of minority and multicultural affairs at Columbia Business School in New York City. She then worked as the national director of college recruiting for KPMG from 1996 to 1997. Bradford was hired as the operations administrator for West Park Presbyterian Church in 1997, as well as vice president of organizational consulting and career management at Right Management Consultants, both in New York City. Bradford went on to work for Career Central LLC from 2008 to 2009, Partners in Human Resources from 2009 to 2010, and Amnesty International USA from 2010 to 2012, before becoming director of human resources for Ms. Foundation for Women in 2012.

Andrea Bradford was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 3, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.050

Sex

Female

Interview Date

10/3/2016 |and| 10/25/2016

Last Name

Bradford

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Oakwood University

Oberlin College

Boston University College of Fine Arts

First Name

Andrea

Birth City, State, Country

Huntsville

HM ID

BRA16

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

St. Martin

Favorite Quote

It Is What It Is.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

12/19/1949

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Salmon

Short Description

Opera singer and corporate executive Andrea Bradford (1949 - ) toured with the Opera Company of Boston and performed productions of The Balcony, The Barber of Seville and Leroy Jenkins’ Three Willies. In 2012, she became director of human resources for Ms. Foundation of Women.

Employment

Opera Company of Boston

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Boston Pops Orchestra

Bain & Company

Isaacson, Miller

Berklee College of Music

Columbia Business School

KPMG Peat Marwick

Right Management Consultants

Ms. Foundation for Women

Favorite Color

Red

Rodrick Dixon

Opera singer Rodrick Dixon was born on June 22, 1966 in Queens, New York. Dixon attended the Mannes School of Music and graduated with his B.M. degree in 1989 and his M.M. degree in 1991. During each summer while at the Mannes School, Dixon also studied at L’Academia Musicale Ottorino in Assisi, Italy and l’Ecole d’Art Americain-Palais de Fontainebleau, France.

Dixon trained in the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, where he appeared in many productions, most notably as the Prince in the 1992 world premiere of Bright Sheng’s The Song of Majnun. Other notable operatic debuts were with the Portland Opera Les Contes d’Hoffmann (1995); the Columbus Opera’s world premiere of Vanqui as Prince (2000); the Virginia Opera as Sportin’ Life in Porgy & Bess (2000); the Michigan Opera Theater as Tonio in La Fille Du Regiment (2005); and the Todi Music Festival as Lenski in Eugene Onegin (2007). Under the baton of Maestro James Conlon, he debuted at the Cincinnati May Festival (2005); the Los Angeles Opera in Tannhauser (2007); the filming of Der Zwerg (2008); and the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (2011). Dixon’s orchestral debuts include: the Chicago Symphony Millennium Park (2004), May Festival (2005), Philadelphia Orchestra (2008), the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the title role of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex (2009) and Atlanta Symphony (2010). He then joined the Metropolitan Opera roster for Armida (2010-2011) and Rodelinda (2011). From 1998 to 2013, Dixon performed with the Tenors Cook, Dixon and Young (formerly of the Three Mo’ Tenors), filming multiple PBS-TV specials and touring the U.S.

In 2002, Dixon and his wife, opera singer, Alfreda Burke, performed in “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah” at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre and the Detroit Opera House. Other performances by Dixon and Burke include PBS specials Hallelujah Broadway (Prague, 2010) and Miss World 2012 from Inner Mongolia, China. They have appeared as regular guest artists in Old St. Patrick Church’s (Chicago) production, Siamsa na nGael, at Symphony Center and Deck the Halls Christmas Concerts. In 2013, Dixon and Burke co-produced and recorded the new show,Songs of a Dream, with the Auditorium Theatre for a U.S tour.

Dixon’s musical recordings include: Arthaus Musik Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg; Recorded Music of the African Diaspora and Hallelujah Broadway (2010). He has also appeared on numerous television programs, including My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs at City Center (2000), The Mark Twain Awards Honoring Whoopi Goldberg at Kennedy Center (2002), the United States. Air Force 60th Anniversary Gala (2007).

Dixon received a number of grants, scholarships and awards, including the Richard F. Gold Career Grant from the Shoshana Foundation, the Jan Peerce Scholarship, Links Foundation Scholarship, a multi-year grant from the Osceola Foundation and the Mary Dawson Art Guild “Tenor of the Year” Award (1991). He has served as a consultant with the Cincinnati Symphony and Old St. Patrick’s Church (Chicago), and been on several boards including the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid Committee (Arts and Culture Advisory Committee).

Opera singer Rodrick Dixon was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 20, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.230

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/20/2013

Last Name

Dixon

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Edward

Occupation
Schools

Mannes College of Music

Harlem School of the Arts

Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts

First Name

Rodrick

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

DIX03

Favorite Season

Summer

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

London, England

Favorite Quote

The Truth Is What It Is And What It's Not.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

6/22/1966

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fruit

Short Description

Opera singer Rodrick Dixon (1966 - ) has appeared as a soloist in a number of operas, as well as performing with the tenor group, Cook, Dixon & Young and his wife, concert artist, Alfreda Burke.

Employment

DiBurke, Inc.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Rodrick Dixon's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his mother's childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his mother's education and her desire to become an opera singer

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon describes his father's family history

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his father's childhood and careers

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his father's education and ministry

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon describes how his parents met, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon describes how his parents met, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon describes the South Ozone Park neighborhood in Queens, New York where he grew up

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood in South Ozone Park, Queens, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon describes how his parents influenced him musically, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon describes how his parents influenced him musically, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his early exposure to famous black classical musicians

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experience in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his passion for baseball and the players who inspired him

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Rodrick Dixon talks about playing baseball during his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon talks about how music, baseball, and church life shaped him as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon talks about some of his baseball mentors and himself as a student

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon describes learning to play the piano

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon talks about attending the Brooklyn Boys Chorus at Long Island University in New York City, New York in 1977

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon reflects on his musical education at P.S. 124 in Queens, New York and the Brooklyn Boys Chorus at Long Island University in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experiences in the Brooklyn Boys Chorus at Long Island University in New York City in 1977

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon recalls having an epiphany about his musical talent in junior high school

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon recalls enrolling at the High School of Music and Art in Harlem, New York in 1980

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon reflects on his voice teachers and the value of classical voice training

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon describes his development as a singer at The High School of Music and Art in New York City, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon recalls enrolling at the Mannes College of Music in New York City, New York in 1984

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experience at Mannes College of Music in New York City, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experience studying music in Fontainebleau, France and meeting Leonard Bernstein

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon recalls a conversation he had with Leonard Bernstein in Fontainebleau, France

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon recalls performing five songs in Chinese by composer Bright Sheng in Fontainebleau, France

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon talks about learning foreign languages as a singer

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the role of dialect in operatic singing

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon describes how learning foreign cultures and traditions affect his performance

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon shares his philosophy of musical phrasing, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon shares his philosophy of musical phrasing, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon shares his opinion on the label "crossover artist," pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon shares his opinion on the label "crossover artist," pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon describes his audition for the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists in Chicago, Illinois in 1991

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon recalls performing Bright Sheng's opera "The Song of Majnun" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Illinois in 1992

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon describes the importance of classical music in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon describes his decision to study at the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists rather than performing in higher-paying opera roles

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his experience at the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon describes his career as a singer and a substitute teacher after leaving the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon recalls meeting his wife, HistoryMaker Alfreda Burke

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon talks about courting HistoryMaker Alfreda Burke while they each performed in different cities

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the stamina and technique required to perform on Broadway and in opera

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his experience in the ensemble of "Ragtime" on Broadway

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon describes returning to Chicago, Illinois to sing the role of Booker T. Washington in "Ragtime"

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon describes the origin of the Three Mo' Tenors

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experience performing with Victor Trent Cook and Thomas Young as the Three Mo' Tenors, and as Cook, Dixon and Young

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon talks about The Three Tenors

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the success of the Three Mo' Tenors, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the success of the Three Mo' Tenors, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon shares his opinion about why the Three Mo' Tenors cannot be duplicated

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the success of "Too Hot to Handel"

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon talks about "Hallelujah Broadway"

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon talks about how he avoids stage fright

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon describes meeting James Conlon and returning to a career in opera

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon talks about performing in Alexander Zemlinsky's "Der Zwerg"

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon talks about James Conlon's Recovered Voices Project

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon describes the different types of operatic tenors, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon describes the different types of operatic tenors, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the reception to his performance as the title character in Alexander Zemlinsky's opera "Der Zwerg," pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon talks about the reception to his performance as the title character in Alexander Zemlinsky's opera "Der Zwerg," pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon describes his work with the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon describes his work with the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon describes his experience at the Music and Medicine Symposium at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon talks about "Siamsa na nGael" in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon talks about Daniel O'Connell and Frederick Douglass

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon reflects on the travel opportunities that he has had in his career

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his career plans and Nathaniel Dett's "The Ordering of Moses"

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Rodrick Dixon describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Rodrick Dixon reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Rodrick Dixon talks about professional organizations for black musicians and how African American musical traditions are viewed within the classical world

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his family

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Rodrick Dixon talks about his marriage to HistoryMaker Alfreda Burke

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Rodrick Dixon talks about DiBurke, Inc.

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Rodrick Dixon reflects on how his parents feel about his career

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Rodrick Dixon describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Rodrick Dixon narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

7$2

DATitle
Rodrick Dixon recalls having an epiphany about his musical talent in junior high school
Rodrick Dixon shares his philosophy of musical phrasing, pt. 2
Transcript
Okay. So now how long did you, now did you do all of junior high school at--$$No. I was only in Brooklyn Boys Chorus [at Long Island University in New York City, New York] for one year.$$Okay.$$My voice changed at thirteen. I was back in junior high, I was back in junior high school, I wanna say P.S. 226 [sic, J.H.S. 226 Virgil L. Grissom in Queens, New York City, New York], is that where I went to junior high school? I can see the school but I'm not sure 'cause--(unclear) (simultaneous)$$I can tell you.$$(Unclear) (simultaneous)$$In a second here. Let's see--$$Yeah.$$One, yeah, 226.$$Yeah, there you go.$$Yeah.$$Yeah, right off the conduit. House, Howard Beach.$$Okay.$$Yeah. Cross Bay Boulevard, 226, number 7 bus.$$Okay.$$Ride it right past Aqueduct Racetrack. Yeah, my voice changed at thirteen or was beginning to change, and then all of a sudden grades seven it was changing, grade eight something happened. A chorus, Mr. Vecchioni [ph.] heard me singing in the tenor section in chorus. And he walked up to me while we were singing and warming up and he stood next to me and he listened to me and he singled me out and he says you have a very beautiful voice. My voice had already changed at thirteen. And let me say something about that. I sang throughout the whole vocal change. I was a boy soprano, the voice changed and it dropped and I kept singing through church so I would crack while I was doing my solos. The solos I used to sing as a boy soprano now my voice wasn't acting right but I never got discouraged because they never said anything negative about my voice cracking at church services. So it seemed normal to me. But I always had my baseball glove and my hardball in it, with my little rubber band wrapped around it when I went to church. So I would sing, crack all the time I was thirteen and it was horrible. I can remember now, it was just horrible, but I never was discouraged 'cause I, you just get up and sing and then you sit down. Then I would go play the piano during service and didn't think anything about it, and never got discouraged. But at 17 at 226, Vecchioni heard me and he said I had a, a beautiful voice and they gave me this torch song that Frank Sinatra used to sing, "My Way". And I sang that at one of the concerts and that was grades, grade, eighth grade 226 choral concert, I sang "My Way." Then all of a sudden the light bulb cut on. It's funny it didn't really cut on at Brooklyn Boys Chorus 'cause I was still being talented and a boy soprano was just normal to me.$$So you, you considered that was just part of the chorus--$$Yeah. I was just--$$--and not a, not having an exceptional voice necessarily.$$I had an exceptional voice 'cause I had solos.$$Okay.$$But the light bulbs weren't on. I was just doing what I do, you know, what I mean.$$Yeah.$$I didn't, I, it was until Vecchioni singled me out in eighth grade, then he said, "Sing 'My Way'", that I, that all of sudden something flipped. You would think that it would have flipped at Brooklyn Boys Chorus with all the traveling, the movie, singing the solos, singing "Soon and Very Soon" and sitting down playing the key of F with the Brooklyn Boys Chorus while we were traveling doing concerts, it didn't happen when I was twelve. It happened when I was fourteen at 226, ""My Way" in that moment, light bulb cuts on. And maybe because I was two years older and I realized something special was happening.$Did, did you, what, what, what was your first formal training I guess in, in phrasing and in interpreting a song?$$It was something that my parents [Dorothy Jean Black Dixon and Samuel Edward Dixon] were doing, and my father sometimes would talk about it but as far as I can remember, it had something to do with the divine intervention. He would always say that. And, of course, my, and my mother was always divine, (laughter) you know. So that terminology would always follow me every time I walked into a musical environment. Where is the divine intervention? So I developed a sense of this because I, this is the paradox for me right now. As a classical, operatically trained artist, I am taught to sing legato at all times because that's the, that is the way in which one can actually be heard past an orchestra because once that, people in the house hear your sound, you don't want your sound to stop, you want it to continue to carry in the hall because you have many different instruments with many different colors coming and girding up, girding the sound as it moves forward into a house if you're singing acoustically and you're singing classical repertoire in a foreign language.$$And just, just for the record "legato" means?$$Legato means a continuous sound that doesn't stop.$$Hmm.$$Just straight line of sound that just doesn't stop. You can do this, this would not be legato: ah-ah-ah-ah, those are just different notes with spaces in between. (Singing) just continuous sound. And that sound travels. And once people hear your voice they can distinguish it from all the other seventy instruments if they're all playing at the same time, or pockets of instruments that are playing at the same time, strings or woodwinds, so forth and so on. We're taught to sing legato because we wanna have a legato line in all the languages in classical music because that's the essence of beautiful singing. Round sound, supported sound, with the body under the sound, the diaphragm, sing legato. But what I've discovered, and which is what my father would talk about, is that the divine intervention, you say well that's nice if you wanna be technical, but if you wanna move people, you have to figure out where the pauses are. And you can't sing all the notes because if you're speaking to people in English, you don't have to sing legato to move them, you just have to move them. So you take pauses, you think more like an actor. You, you, you find in a line like, 'Somewhere' [from "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim] that I sing in "Hallelujah Broadway". He sings a line, (singing) "There's a place (pauses) for us," but that's not legato, you took a break and there's no legato line. But for the camera, that's special because the camera captures the gleam of the eye. Opera singers will do this, (singing) "There's a place for us, somewhere a-" that's the operatic tradition of singing sounds and creating of a legato line. But (singing) "There's (pause) a place for us," and that's the paradox because the more you become keen on the eighty percent which is nonverbal and you learn that from the English side of your artistic gifts, then you have to then transfer pauses and pregnant pauses and lift pauses in classical music, which is a slight lift of silence into the next line, into the classical tradition then you have to hide it and be very careful 'cause you still have to sing legato but you have to break up where you're gonna not sing legato to become more influential in the moment to move people. And that's where you have to be very artistic with the European side and their traditions and, and, and connect your artistic growth as a human being moving people as an artist in whatever you do, whether it be classical, jazz, blues, or gospel. And that's where the geniuses live. They live in the pockets of silence. They move space where there's nothing going around, and then reformulate their idea in such a way to get you the pitch emotionally or mentally, one way of the other, and then they get you to open up. And all of a sudden you become engrossed in the moment artistically. And that's what my father calls the divine intervention. And that's the paradox, technique against the organic. But the organic is technical because it's like jazz, its improvisation. You don't know where you're going but you know that whatever you're doing matters. Technique means everything is planned, it matters because it's planned and it's serious. But somewhere in the middle, there has to be moving people and that's the divine intervention of marrying the two. So for me, we spent a lot of time accepting that I'm no longer calling it breaking the rules, I'm just calling it being a mature musician who's serious about trying to take the moment to the next human level of experience.

George Shirley

Opera Singer George Shirley was born on April 18, 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Irving and Daisy Shirley. By age four, Shirley had begun performing, joining his mother and father as a musical trio within the Indianapolis church community. After moving to Detroit, Michigan with his parents at age six, Shirley continued to build his musical talents, playing the baritone horn in a community band, and studying voice while a student at Northern High School. His musical acumen earned Shirley a scholarship to Wayne State University, where he performed in his first musical drama, Oedipus Rex, with the Men’s Glee Club in 1955. He graduated that same year, receiving his B.S. in Music Education.

Also in 1955, Shirley became the first African American high school music teacher in the city of Detroit. A year later, after being drafted into the Army, he became the first African American to sing with the U.S. Army Chorus, where, influenced by fellow choir members, Shirley decided to pursue a career in opera. In 1959, he performed in his first staged production, Die Fledermaus, with a small company in Woodstock, New York. The following year, after winning the American Opera Auditions in New York, he was invited to play the role Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme in Milan, Italy. In 1961, Shirley won first prize in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, thus becoming the first African American tenor to be awarded a contract with that company, where he performed from 1961 through 1973. He played major roles in more than twenty operas, often performing with fellow African American opera pioneers Leontyne Price and Shirley Verrett. During and after his stint with the Metropolitan Opera, Shirley was a well sought tenor across the globe, appearing in productions in London, Italy, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Chicago, Boston and a host of other cities. Shirley also won a Grammy Award for a recording of his performance in Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte.

In 1980, Shirley joined the staff of the University of Maryland as a professor of voice. In 1985, the University honored him with a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award. In 1987, he returned to the Detroit area, as a professor of voice at the University of Michigan, and five years later, he was named the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Professor of Voice. In 2007, Shirley was named the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Emeritus Professor of Voice upon his retirement.

George Shirley was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 10, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.045

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/10/2010 |and| 10/25/2012

Last Name

Shirley

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Irving

Organizations
Schools

Wayne State University

Alger Elementary School

Balch Elementary School

Moore Elementary School

Sherrard Intermediate School

Northern High School

First Name

George

Birth City, State, Country

Indianapolis

HM ID

SHI01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Indiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

4/18/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Ann Arbor

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fish

Short Description

Music instructor and opera singer George Shirley (1934 - ) is a professor of voice at the University of Michigan, and in 1961, he became the first African American tenor to earn a contract with the Metropolitan Opera.

Employment

Miller High School

United States Army

Metropolitan Opera

University of Maryland at College Park

University of Michigan

Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of George Shirley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - George Shirley lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - George Shirley describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about his maternal family's migration north to Indianapolis, Indiana and Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - George Shirley describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - George Shirley talks about the family land in Summer Shade, Kentucky

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - George Shirley talks about his father's education and how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - George Shirley talks about his birth by caesarian section and his mother's fertility complications

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - George Shirley describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - George Shirley describes his father's near death experience in a Detroit, Michigan hospital

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about the establishment of People's Community Church and his father's work as an insurance agent in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - George Shirley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood in Indianapolis, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - George Shirley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - George Shirley describes Ebenezer A.M.E. Church and growing up in Detroit, Michigan's North End

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - George Shirley talks about music curriculum in the Detroit Public Schools

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about his exposure to classical music at Northern High School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about his experiences at Northern High School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - George Shirley recalls his decision to attend Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - George Shirley describes performing Igor Stravinsky's 'Oedipus Rex' at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - George Shirley talks about teaching at Miller High School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - George Shirley describes joining the United States Army Chorus

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - George Shirley talks about segregation in Washington D.C. during the 1950s and his experience in the United States Army Chorus

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - George Shirley describes performing in the United States Army Chorus and seeing an opera for the first time

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about meeting Themy Georgi

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - George Shirley describes the beginning of his opera career

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Second slating of George Shirley's interview

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - George Shirley describes his first performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about African American singers in the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - George Shirley details the history of black opera singers in the United States

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - George Shirley talks about the National Negro Opera Company

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - George Shirley talks about Caterina Jarboro, Jules Bledsoe, Paul Robeson, and Roland Hayes

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - George Shirley talks about meeting Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson, and Paul Robeson

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - George Shirley talks about changes in the musical tastes of black youth during the 1960s and 1970s

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - George Shirley talks about black opera singers recognized in 1960s popular culture and the challenges involved in composing operas

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - George Shirley explains why he pursued a career in classical music

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - George Shirley describes seeing his first opera, Verdi's 'Rigoletto,' in 1957

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about Scott Joplin's opera 'Treemonisha' and musicians' desire to be multi-dimensional

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - George Shirley talks about the differences between jazz and classical music

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - George Shirley talks about performing with Shirley Verrett and Leontyne Price

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - George Shirley talks about performing roles for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about the roles he performed throughout his operatic career

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about receiving criticism for using pale makeup in a performance of 'The Stag King'

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - George Shirley talks about the incorporation of race in critics' reviews of African American performers

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - George Shirley describes his first visit to Atlanta, Georgia in 1962

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - George Shirley talks about returning to Atlanta, Georgia in 1966

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about his performance of Romeo in 'Romeo and Juliet' at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1969

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about the end of his career at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - George Shirley talks about his operatic career after the Metropolitan Opera and singing in multiple languages

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - George Shirley describes the challenges involved in operatic performing and highlights from his career

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - George Shirley talks about teaching at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland and at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - George Shirley talks about teaching at the University of Maryland and joining the faculty at the University of Michigan

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - George Shirley explains the significance of the role of Porgy in George Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess'

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about performing in 'Porgy and Bess' and its international reception

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about twenty-first century American opera compositions

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - George Shirley talks about his students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - George Shirley describes his approach to instructing voice students

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - George Shirley talks about taking proper care of a voice and managing acid reflux disease

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - George Shirley addresses the misapprehension that weight corresponds to a singer's ability

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - George Shirley describes the significance of diet and vocal training for opera singers

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - George Shirley describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about his family

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - George Shirley reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - George Shirley describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - George Shirley sings an aria from 'Girl of the Golden West' in Italian

DASession

1$2

DATape

3$7

DAStory

2$2

DATitle
George Shirley talks about music curriculum in the Detroit Public Schools
George Shirley talks about performing roles for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City
Transcript
Now did you, now you were part of the, a little group you said your parents formed with you with just the family to sing in church and--$$And just, just my mother [Daisy Bell Shirley], my dad [Irving Shirley], and myself. That was in Indianapolis [Indiana]. And then, and then when we came to Detroit [Michigan], I, my mother sang in the senior choir. My dad would play for me, for teens, and so we didn't perform as a unit anymore. But I would give recitals at Ebenezer [A.M.E. Church, Detroit, Michigan] and sing for social functions. The music education curriculum in the public schools taught children to read music from the first grade. So by the time you got to the sixth grade, if you had any musical chops at all, you were musically literate. Then junior high school there were really good choral ensembles. In high school choral and instrumental ensembles were quite outstanding. When I began my teaching career at the old Miller High School [Detroit, Michigan] in 1956, my choir participated--I started in '55 [1955] and '56 [1956] my choir participated in the first annual choral, citywide choral festival. And all the high schools choir, high school choirs participated in that--high level of repertoire performed, excellent ensemble, singing in tune, singing with precision. It was quite spectacular. And unfortunately that's been reduced to almost nothing now (simultaneous)--$$But, but in the days that you were coming along, the music department, I mean the (simultaneous)--$$Music curriculum was fabulous.$$--Music program were strong, that's right.$$The whole Motown industry grew because of that, all of those singers that Berry Gordy hired to begin his enterprise were musically literate. They could read music. Two years ago I met [HM] Martha Reeves at an AGMA [American Guild of Musical Artists] meeting--after a meeting, sorry. And I started to introduce myself. She said, "Oh, I know who you are. You were my high school music teacher." (Laughter). She was in my, one of my girls' voice classes along with Kim Weston. But these schools produced all that great talent that came out of Detroit, jazz musicians, classical musicians. When I was at the Metropolitan Opera [New York, New York] there were five people on the roster from the Detroit area. And that's pretty good for one of the major opera houses, international opera houses, to have five performers from Motown. Joseph Silverstein was a longtime concert master of the Boston Symphony Orchestra [Boston, Massachusetts]. He came from Cass Tech [Cass Technical High School, Detroit, Michigan]. Isidor Saslav from the Baltimore Symphony [Maryland], concert master, Cass Tech. This town produced great talents, [HM] Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin. Smokey, Smokey formed his group when he was a student at Northern High School, people like Tommy Flanagan [Thomas Lee Flanagan], Yusef Lateef, no, Ahmad Jamal, [HM] Della Reese, Kenny Burrell, Milt Jackson, Kirk Lightsey. The names go on and on and on and on and on. The cultural curriculum of Detroit Public Schools was second to none in the nation and now it's destroyed. It's almost, almost destroyed by people who are looking to save money.$$Are you--we'll talk about that later in more detail, but when you were a kid, now were you aware that you had musical talent, or were you considered to be talented in music?$$Well, yes, as I said, I mean I started singing when I was about four. So I knew that the singing was part of my life. When I was getting ready to graduate from high school, I mean I had sung the solos. In 'Messiah,' [George Frideric Handel] high school I sang the tenor solo in the first course of the [Giuseppe] Verdi '[Messa da] Requiem' in one of our concerts. So I knew that my talent was considerable. I decided not to, to go into professional music as a singer. I mean I thought that was, that was a little far away, as, that's far, that was as far, that was as remote as New York City was from Detroit. But, I decided to become a music teacher. That was going to be my career, and I was indeed happy with that until Uncle Sam interrupted with the [U.S.] Military draft. And it was after the draft that I decided to pursue professional singing as an opera singer.$Okay. So, within a year's time it seems that you had developed quite a repertoire of, of roles in, in, in, in one year [at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, New York].$$Yes.$$Now this is--$$The interesting thing is my career got started, again, on this emergency jumping in. And that proved to the management that they had someone who could do that and not fall flat on his face. The result was that I was asked to do that probably more often than I should have. And young, initially there'd be nerves or less--the more I was asked to do that, the more of a problem it became. The roles that I did at the Met [Metropolitan Opera], I think I did twenty-seven roles altogether there. Of those roles, the ones that I had sung prior to performing them at the Met were very few. One that I had sung prior to that was Rodolfo [in 'La boheme' by Giacomo Puccini], 'cause I made my debut in Italy in, in that in 1960 before I went to the Met. Don Jose was another one that I had, had already sung. I think that was it.$$Okay.$$I think all the rest of them were for the first time anywhere. And that can really sort of begin--and some of those were with, at the last minute. The 'Cosi [fan tutte' by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart]--the Ferrando in 'Cosi' was the last minute. The des Grieux in [Jules] Massenet's 'Manon' was last minute because Nicolai Gedda's father died. He sang the first performance of a new production, and I was covering him, so I sang the next two and Nick went off to his father's funeral. des Grieux in [Giacomo] Puccini's 'Manon Lescaut' was at the last minute because a tenor canceled. Nemorino in 'L'elisir d'amore' [Gaetano Donizetti] was last minute, (laughter) actually. I had come to the end of my season this particular year, and I was getting ready to go off and do recitals in the South. And Rudolf Bing asked me, he said, "George," he said, "We have a performance, a performance of 'L'elisir d'amore' coming up." And he said, "We don't have a tenor. Would you, can you do this?" Well, that "L'elisir" wasn't on my list. And I said, "Mr. Bing, I don't know the opera." He said, "But you, you, you've got to help us," in his English accent, "You, you've got to help us. Good God, you've got to help us." I said, "Well, I'm, I'm going off to sing recitals in Tuscaloosa [Alabama] and Talladega, Alabama, next week," said, "Well, all right." So, he called me (laughter) on the telephone when I was either in Tuscaloosa or Talladega. He said, "George, you've got to do this." And I said, "Gee." I said, "Okay, I'll, I'll, I have to take a look at the score when I get back 'cause I don't know it." It wasn't on my list of covers. I got back and the opera, the score is about this thick. And I'm thinking heaven's sake. It's got recitative, and it's got arias and so forth. So I learned it. I had about two weeks to learn it. And I did the performance, and it was a success. A number of years later they offered me another performance (laughter), one. And that was in 1967 I think. It was the year that [Reverend Dr.] Martin Luther King [Jr.] was assassinated, and--$$In '68 [1968].$$--in '68 [1968]. And the performance was scheduled for the week in which he was assassinated, and I canceled it. I said I, I can't do this performance now. And so they had to get somebody to (laughter) replace me. And they eventually offered me another performance, and that was with Reri Grist. I took that one. But that was sort of the pattern that so much of what I did at the Met, except for I think those two roles that I mentioned, and maybe I've forgotten one. It was all for the first time, and on most of those roles for the last, at the last minute, because somebody canceled. The first, Gabriele Adorno in 'Simon Boccanegra' of [Giuseppe] Verdi was last minute because somebody had canceled. After a while, you know, that kind of thing really started getting to be a bit much for me to handle. And, but that's the way it went.$$Now is, the implication here, now if we were looking at sports, then we would know how to look at this. You, you always sit on the bench until the starter gets hurt, and then they put you in--$$Right$$--At the last minute, and you succeed, and then, you know. But they only put you in when somebody else is--$$Well, I, I, I did have also chances to do my first performances of things. The, the, the, the, the, it wasn't always just jumping at the last minute. My, my point is that jumping in at the last minute was, happened a lot during my eleven years there. And it began to sort of be something that I really didn't look forward to doing. But, again, American singers who have contracts there are expected because the Met is not like an opera house in Europe. When somebody cancels in Paris [France], they can call Germany, or they can call the UK [United Kingdom], or they can call Italy and say, "Can you, you have somebody you can send over to do the performance tomorrow night because so and so is ill?" And that happens. Well, that doesn't happen in the United States because the Met is a year-round, I mean it's the one opera house that has really a full season. The other opera houses have people come in to do specific shows. And once they have done their show they're gone. They're doing something else. They don't have a roster of artists that's available for the Met to call on if they need some assistance. So they have to have all of their singers in-house. Today there are singers who are under contracts I understand and make very good money, but they're, they're just basically as covers. So that, you know, they may go through a whole season without ever getting on stage to perform. And that's not something that I would really like to, I wouldn't want to deal with that, but I understand that that is the case with a number of artists. But that's the way the Met protects, protects itself, so that what I did was what other singers do. But I, I got the feeling that I did it (laughter) maybe a little bit more often for big roles than some of the other singers did, but that was the way it worked out.$$Okay. So for eleven years, what percentage do you think of, of your roles were, were where you were pushed into service and had to, you know, perform this great feat again?$$I'm terrible at trying to figure percentages, (laughter) but I would say less than, I'd say maybe forty percent.$$That's almost half the time, yeah, yeah.

Denyce Graves

Recognized worldwide as one of today’s most exciting vocal stars, Denyce Graves continues to gather unparalleled popular and critical acclaim in performances on four continents. USA Today identified her as one of the “singers most likely to be an operatic superstar of the 21st Century,” and after a recent performance in Atlanta, the Journal-Constitution exclaimed, “if the human voice has the power to move you, you will be touched by Denyce Graves.”

Graves’ career has taken her to the world’s great opera houses and concert halls. The combination of her expressive, rich vocalism, elegant stage presence, and exciting theatrical abilities allows her to pursue a wide breadth of operatic portrayals as well as delight audiences in concert and recital appearances. Graves has become particularly well-known to operatic audiences for her portrayals of the title roles in Carmen and Samson et Dalila. These signature roles have brought Graves to the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna Staatsoper, Royal Opera – Covent Garden, San Francisco Opera, Opera National de Paris, Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Washington Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Arena di Verona, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opernhaus Zurich, Teatro Real in Madrid, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Los Angeles Opera, and the Festival Maggio Musicale in Florence.

Graves made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1995-96 season in the title role of Carmen. She returned the following season to lead the new Franco Zeffirelli production of this work, conducted by James Levine, and she sang the opening night performance of the Metropolitan Opera’s 1997-98 season as Carmen opposite Placido Domingo. She was seen again that season as Bizet’s gypsy on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera for Domingo’s 30th Anniversary Gala, and she made her debut in Japan as Carmen, opposite the Don Jose of Roberto Alagna. Also, in 1997, PBS Productions released a video and audio recording titled, Denyce Graves: A Cathedral Christmas, featuring Graves in a program of Christmas music from Washington’s National Cathedral. This program airs every Christmas season on PBS. Graves also appeared in a new production of Samson et Dalila opposite Domingo at the Metropolitan Opera, and she was partnered again with Domingo in the 1999 season-opening performances of this work for the Los Angeles Opera. She was seen as Saint Saens’ seductress with Royal Opera, Covent Garden and The Washington Opera, both opposite Jose Cura – the latter under the baton of Maestro Domingo, as well as with Houston Grand Opera. Her debut in this signature role came in 1992 with the Chicago Symphony at the Ravinia Festival under the direction of James Levine and opposite Mr. Domingo and Sherrill Milnes, and she made a return engagement to the Festival in this same role in 1997.

Graves appears continually in a broad range of repertoire with leading theatres in North America and Europe. She recently sang her first performances of Judith in a William Friedkin production of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle in her return to Los Angeles Opera. Highlights of the mezzo-soprano’s other recent appearances include her first performances of the title role in La Perichole with the Opera Company of Philadelphia; a rare double-bill of El amor brujo and La vida breve specifically mounted for her by Dallas Opera; Federica in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Luisa Miller, led by James Levine; and Nicklausse in Les contes d’Hoffmann with The Washington Opera. Graves’ debut with the Theatre Musical de Paris – Chatelet was a Baba the Turk in a Peter Sellars/Esa-Pekka Salonen production of The Rake’s Progress, and she returned to Covent Garden as Cuniza in Verdi’s Oberto after her debut performances as Carmen. Her debut at Teatro alla Scala was as the High Priestess in La vestale led by Riccardo Muti, and she soon returned as Giulietta in a new production of Les contes d’Hoffmann and as Mere Marie in the Robert Carsen production of Les dialogues des Carmelites. Her first performances as Dulcinee in Massenet’s Don Quichotte were with The Washington Opera. She appeared at Teatro Bellini in Catania in the title role of La favorite, and audiences in Genoa saw her first performances of Charlotte in Werther soon after her debut there as Carmen. In 1999, Graves repeated the role of Charlotte for Michigan Opera Theatre opposite the Werther of Andrea Bocelli in his first staged operatic performances. Her debut in Austria came as Carmen with the Vienna Staatsoper, and she has also been seen in this role with Grand Theatre de Geneve, Genoa’s Teatro Carlo Felice, the Bregenz Festival, and festivals in Macerata, Italy and San Sebastian, Spain. Graves gave her first performances of Adalgisa in Norma for Opernhaus Zurich. In the 1999-2000 season, Graves gave her first performances as Amneris in Aida with Cincinnati Opera.

Graves has worked with leading symphony orchestras and conductors throughout the world in a wide range of repertoire. She has performed with Riccardo Chailly, Myung-Whun Chung, Charles Dutoit, Christoph Eschenbach, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Riccardo Muti, and Mstislav Rostropovich. Graves has appeared in Verdi’s Messa di Requiem, Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, Chausson’s Poeme del’amour et de la mer, Ravel’s Sheherazade, Honegeer’s Antigone, and Richard Danielpour’s Margaret Garner, an opera whose title role was written specifically for Graves.

In 2001, Graves gave a series of appearances in response to the tragic events in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. She was invited by President George W. Bush to participate in the National Prayer Service in Washington’s National Cathedral in which she sang, “America, the Beautiful” and “The Lord’s Prayer.” This event was televised worldwide and was followed by an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show in a live musical program of “Healing through Gospel Music.” Graves has gone on to participate in numerous other benefit concerts, and RCA Records released a recording of patriotic songs sung by Graves, whose proceeds are given to various groups affected by the events of September 11, 2001.

In 2003, Graves was appointed as a Cultural Ambassador for the United States, and she now travels around the world under the auspices of the State Department appearing in good-will missions of musical performances, lectures, and seminars. Her first trips in 2003 brought her to Poland, Romania, and Venezuela.

Graves has been the recipient of many awards, including the Grand Prix du Concours International de Chant de Paris, the Eleanor Steber Music Award in the Opera Columbus Vocal Competition, and a Jacobson Study Grant from the Grand Prix Lyrique, awarded once every three years by the Association des amis de l’opera de Monte-Carlo, and the Marian Anderson Award, presented to her by Miss Anderson.

Graves is a native of Washington, D.C., where she attended the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts. She continued her education at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and the New England Conservatory. In 1998, Graves received an honorary doctorate from Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. She was named one of the “Fifty Leaders of Tomorrow” by Ebony magazine and was one of Glamour magazine’s 1997 “Women of the Year.” In 1999, New York’s WQXR Radio named Graves one of classical music’s “Standard Bearers for the 21st Century.”

Graves was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 22, 2005.

Accession Number

A2005.272

Sex

Female

Interview Date

10/22/2005

Last Name

Graves

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
First Name

Denyce

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

GRA11

Favorite Season

None

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Maryland

Birth Date

3/7/1964

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Baltimore

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Opera singer Denyce Graves (1964 - ) was most known to operatic audiences for her portrayals of the title roles in, "Carmen," and "Samson et Dalila." In these roles, Graves has performed in such venues as the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna Staatsoper, Royal Opera – Covent Garden, San Francisco Opera, Opera National de Paris, and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Favorite Color

None

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - 'An Evening With Denyce Graves' opens with credits

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - 'An Evening With Denyce Graves' opens with Angela Bassett's introduction

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Denyce Graves recalls how she and Angela Bassett met

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Denyce Graves describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Denyce Graves talks about the importance of music in her childhood household

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Clip of Denyce Graves' education and introduction to opera plays

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Denyce Graves recalls her early inspirations of Leontyne Price and singing gospel music

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Denyce Graves reflects upon maintaining her passion for classical music

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Denyce Graves describes her experiences at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Clip of the African American opera singers who paved the way for Denyce Graves plays

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Denyce Graves reflects upon singing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Denyce Graves recalls damaging her vocal chords and being forced to take time off from singing

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Clip of Denyce Graves teaching students and performing in 'Margaret Garner' plays

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Denyce Graves describes singing the role of Carmen and taking care of her vocal chords

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Denyce Graves reflects upon learning to be herself on the stage

Tape: 1 Story: 16 - Denyce Graves explains how she deals with racism and other biases in the opera world

Tape: 1 Story: 17 - Denyce Graves talks about the dearth of African American male opera singers

Tape: 1 Story: 18 - Denyce Graves talks about balancing her career and family life

Tape: 1 Story: 19 - Denyce Graves reflects upon her experience representing America abroad

Tape: 1 Story: 20 - 'An Evening With Denyce Graves' closes with credits

Willie Brown, Jr.

Bass soloist and educator Willie Brown, Jr. was born on August 17, 1930 in New Orleans, Louisiana to Odessa Jackson Brown and Willie Chester Brown, both church soloists. He sang his first solo, Heaven’s Radio in kindergarten. Brown attended Sylvania F. Williams School in New Orleans and spent some of his elementary years in Redondo Beach and Los Angeles, California. Attending Nelson Junior High School in New Orleans, Brown performed as a church soloist and in school operettas. He formed the group, Willie Brown and the Boys, before graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in 1949. His education at Xavier University was interrupted by service in the United States Army in 1953, but he returned to graduate with a B.A. degree in music education in 1957. Brown went on to earn a Masters degree in musical performance from Governors State University in Illinois and later a Ph.D. in music from Birmingham, Alabama’s Faith College. At Xavier University’s Opera Workshop, Brown performed the title role in the opera Riggoletto, “Figaro” in The Marriage of Figaro and “Escamillo” in Carmen.

Moving to Chicago in 1957, Brown served as a Chicago public school teacher, while building a reputation as a church and classical soloist. In the early 1960’s, he gained national exposure as a guest soloist on NBC television’s Dave Garroway Show. In 1967, he was invited as special guest of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to perform for the SCLC Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. Brown performed with the black McLin Opera Company and the Light Opera Company and performed over two thousand times as a professional with Chicago’s Lyric Opera Company where he was the only full time African American artist. His Lyric Opera credits include solos as “Escamillo” in Carmen and as the priest in Aida. Brown was also a soloist in Tales of Hoffmann, Pagliacci and Cavallieria Rusticana. Brown often performed Handel’s Messiah, Requiem, Seven Last Words of Christ, St. Paul by Mendelssohn and Strabat Mater as an oratorio bass soloist. His musical repertoire included operatic arias in Italian, French and German and oratorio arias in Latin. Brown also performed cantatas, English, Italian and German folk songs, American show songs, spirituals, gospels, hymns and popular songs. Brown’s concert credits included Notre Dame University, International Parliament of Religion, and the Chicago Gospel Fest. The Bravo Chapter of the Lyric Opera, the Chicago Board of Education Music Department, and the Chicago Board of Administrative Affairs invited Brown as a special guest performer.

Brown was the winner of numerous awards for his solos including the “Best Male Singer” from the R. Nathaniel Dett Scholarship Award, the B Sharp Best Singer Scholarship and the 1996 James P. Lyke African American Male Image Award. He was the director of the Angels Choir of Chicago’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Brown passed away on February 7, 2014 at age 83.

Accession Number

A2006.103

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/23/2006

Last Name

Brown

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Booker T. Washington High School

Nelson Junior High School

Faith Grant College

Xavier University of Louisiana

Governors State University

Sylvanie F. Williams School

Bienville Elementary School

First Name

Willie

Birth City, State, Country

New Orleans

HM ID

BRO36

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

New Orleans, Louisiana

Favorite Quote

The Lord Is My Light And My Salvation. Whom Shall I Fear?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

8/17/1930

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Steak

Death Date

2/7/2014

Short Description

Opera singer Willie Brown, Jr. (1930 - 2014 ) performed in several operas, including, "Carmen," and, "Aida," and was the only full time African American Fine Artist employed by Chicago's Lyric Opera. Brown also served as a Chicago public school teacher. Brown passed away on February 7, 2014.

Employment

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Chicago Public Schools

Post Office

Favorite Color

Brown

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Willie Brown, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Willie Brown, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his mother's family background, pt. 3

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his mother's childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Willie L. Brown, Jr. describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Willie Brown, Jr. remembers his childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes New Orleans' neighborhoods, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes New Orleans' neighborhoods, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes Sylvania F. Williams Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Willie Brown, Jr. recalls how his community encouraged him to sing

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Willie Brown, Jr. recalls his early recognition as a singer

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes discrimination based on color in New Orleans

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Willie Brown, Jr. lists the school he attended in California and New Orleans

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his high school singing career

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Willie Brown, Jr. recalls his decision to attend Xavier University of Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes the Solfege system

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Willie Brown, Jr. remembers the choir at Xavier University of Louisiana, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Willie Brown, Jr. remembers the choir at Xavier University of Louisiana, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Willie Brown, Jr. remembers performing with the Xavier University choir

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Willie Brown, Jr. remembers John H. Stroger, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Willie Brown, Jr. talks about his service in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his return to Xavier University of Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his career upon arriving in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his position with Chicago Public Schools

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his career with the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Willie Brown, Jr. remembers the highlights of his opera career, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Willie Brown, Jr. remembers the highlights of his opera career, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Willie Brown, Jr. recalls his notable opera performances in New Orleans

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Willie Brown, Jr. recalls singing for Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Willie Brown, Jr. reflects upon theatrical adaptations of operas

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Willie Brown, Jr. reflects upon his opera career

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his travels during his opera career

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Willie Brown, Jr. remembers meeting Paul Robeson, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Willie Brown, Jr. remembers meeting Paul Robeson, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Willie Brown, Jr. remembers being compared to William Warfield

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Willie Brown, Jr. recalls racial discrimination in the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Willie Brown, Jr. recalls the Lyric Opera of Chicago's cast and events

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Willie Brown, Jr. shares his advice for aspiring opera singers

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Willie Brown, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Willie Brown, Jr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Willie Brown, Jr. talks about his wife's religious conversion

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Willie Brown, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Willie Brown, Jr. talks about the use of vulgar language

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Willie Brown, Jr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$5

DAStory

2$4

DATitle
Willie L. Brown, Jr. remembers the highlights of his opera career, pt. 2
Willie L. Brown, Jr. recalls singing for Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Transcript
And at Xavier [Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, Louisiana], that's when I got really introduced to the opera. And 'Rigoletto' [Giuseppe Verdi]--I did, I loved 'Rigoletto' because I could become Rigoletto. I told people, when I do a concert now, and if I would do 'Rigoletto,' I would tell people why I love 'Rigoletto.' I say, "I could do it." The story of 'Rigoletto, I say, is about a man who was kind of hump-back like, and they used to tease him because he has a beautiful daughter [Gilda]. And they stole his daughter from him and took them into the court, and the Duke [Duke of Mantua] liked him and, and, and they molested his daughter. That's the story of 'Rigoletto.' And so Rigoletto got angry, hired a killer [Sparafucile] to kill the Duke, but in the end the Duke got mixed up and killed his daughter--(unclear). Well, his daughter. And so--but I did that excerpt from that in New Orleans [Louisiana], and I was Rigoletto. Now, I like 'Rigoletto' because I see myself in New Orleans. I told you we went in the court, we went to the court and we could go in--and Meat Ball and Kidney Stew [sic. Pork Chop and Kidney Stew] would, would be out there dancing for money, but we could go in, to an extent, to just sing--not at that time though, and not at that part of my history; this was only when we got permission, something like that. But anyway, I saw myself as Rigoletto, who had a beautiful Creole daughter, 'cause there's some beautiful women out here in New Orleans, and I could see my daughter working in the restaurant, and I couldn't go and see her. And I could see myself out there with buck dancers as tap dancers; they wouldn't let--and, and I wanted to go see my daughter and they wouldn't let me see my daughter. I say--and so that's just--it's for the--as far as I could get as far as comparing Rigoletto with New Orleans, and so when I, I say--I, I become Rigoletto.$$Okay.$$My color isn't, isn't blinding people because I see Rigoletto as a black man.$$So did they, okay. The other one, it just dawned on me (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) 'Carmen' [Georges Bizet].$$I don't know as much about opera, but 'Carmen' is--you play the bullfighter; that's the one where they do the, (singing) dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, right.$$(Singing in Italian).$$Yeah, right, right.$$He says, (singing in Italian). I always had--that was me. And that was--he was a lover's man, the troubadour, everybody loved the troubadour 'cause he was a bullfighter--a rich bullfighter. Everybody loved the troubadour. So he come in, people, "Oh, here come Torro." Women like him--everybody like him. And so I enjoyed that, and I enjoyed singing it at the opera but I wasn't the lead. But it reminded me of when I did sing it so many times down in New Orleans with the orchestra, symphony orchestra [New Orleans Symphony; Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra], everything just as grand as anybody would wanna be. And, and 'Rigoletto' and 'Carmen,' that's the two--$But I was there with Lena [HistoryMaker Reverend Dr. Lena McLin] also, and also I went down to Atlanta, Georgia where I met Dr. King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.], not met him, but I sang for him with Lena, and Lena wrote a song ['Free at Last!: A Portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr.'], a tribute to Dr. King, and he heard me sing it, and he invited me down to Atlanta, Georgia where I sang a tribute to Dr. King. And it's a great number, great number. Now, she has a whole slew of songs that she added too, but she had that one song when I, when I sang with, and that is--she would call it a tribute to Dr. King; I sang it at church here, too. That's when King first heard me sing it the first time I was at Quinn Chapel [Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church, Chicago, Illinois]. I'm a member of Quinn Chapel Church, and that's my--he heard me 'cause he was preaching there, and I sang this (unclear) and, and he was fascinated. A lot of people don't know that I knew that Dr. King's running mate was Bennett--Reverend Bennett [John C. Bennett] (laughter), Reverend Bennett, it wasn't Abernathy [Ralph Abernathy]. They weren't really that close.$$Okay. So, Reverend Bennett--$$Reverend Bennett.$$Okay.$$Wherever you saw Dr. King, you saw Reverend Bennett (laughter), yeah, they were, they were buddies, yeah. He took me to his house, he showed me around--all that kind of stuff, you know, and I became a friend, we became friends. They wrote me after a while, you know. He wanted, he wanted to record me--why, I don't know. We went on Dearborn [Street], at about 1100 North Dearborn, they made the tapes, but I was supposed to sing, and for some reason it didn't go any further, why, I don't know, but I know he wanted to tape it, and [HistoryMaker] Harry Belafonte--no, the, the big-time pianist, they were friends to King, they were gonna promote it. Oh, this big time song he wrote. It'll come back to me.$$Oh, a piano player?$$Yeah, big-time player.$$Not Earl.$$Big time guy.$$Not Earl Hines [Earl "Fatha" Hines] or--$$Hm?$$I think he's (unclear).$$I can't--right now, I--oh, he wrote things like, well anyway, he's a big man, big man. And he and King were popular, and he was going to promote it.$$Not Earl Grant. You remember Earl Grant?$$No, no, this is a white fellow.$$Oh, a white guy.$$He was a--he's (unclear). Harry Belafonte heard me singing, you know--hear me sing something there, where they were, and they were great friends, too; I met him there when I was there. But anyway, Rosen [Charles Rosen], ah, it'll come back to me, it'll come back to me (laughter). I can get some of the music, the music I have right now, and get serious--some of the songs that he wrote big-time, big-time. But he was gonna promote this and never got any further, but I know we taped a bunch of tapes.$$Hm.$$And that's it. So (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) You don't remember the name of the company that recorded it?$$That was supposed to record it? No. That taped it? I don't know the taping of it, I really don't. I can't say who was taping but I know who was supposed to promote it, but I, I just can't remember, I just can't remember. I really don't know who did the taping, but I know it was on--oh, about 1100 North Dearborn--Wabash [Avenue] or Dearborn, 1100.$$Well, let me tell you--I'm gonna ask you, now who was Reverend Bennett? Now you said he was Dr. King's friend, but like (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) His best--his, his running buddy.$$What church did he pastor? Where was he?$$Reverend Bennett didn't--I don't think he pastored a church.$$He was just a part of SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference]?$$Yeah, part of SCLC, but they were good buddies, though.$$Okay.$$Yeah, Reverend Bennett was there when we were taping this here.

Simon Estes

Renowned opera singer and educator Simon Estes was born on March 2, 1938, in Centerville, Iowa. Estes is the youngest of three siblings. Raised in a spiritually-centered family, Estes sang in his church choir as a young boy and throughout his young educational years.

Estes began his university career as a pre-med student in 1957 at the University of Iowa. In 1961, a voice teacher, Mr. Charles Kellis, heard Estes sing in one of the university choirs. Kellis introduced Estes to several classical recordings which led Estes to change his professional career path to singing. Upon graduating from the University of Iowa, Estes enrolled in the Juilliard School in 1964. In 1965, he received a music grant from the NAACP and the New York City Trust Fund to audition for the role of Ramfis in Aida. Estes was cast in the role, and made his professional debut at the Deutsche Opera in Berlin. He later won third prize in the Munich International Music Competition in 1965 and the bronze medal at the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Also in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson invited Estes to sing at the White House.

Estes has performed at many major opera houses around the world, and with top opera singers including Leontyne Price and Luciano Pavarotti. Some of his most memorable operatic performances have been performing for Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, South Africa, and in The Flying Dutchman and Porgy and Bess. Estes also sang at the 1999 Nobel Prize Committee where he was introduced to Nelson Mandela.

In 1999, Estes published his autobiography, Simon Estes: In His Own Voice. Estes has worked as a voice, humanities, and foreign language professor at Iowa State University, Boston University, and Wartburg College. He has also established several foundations including the Simon Estes Iowa Educational Foundation; The Simon Estes Music High School near Cape Town, South Africa; and the Switzerland-based Simon Estes International Foundation for Children.

Accession Number

A2006.011

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/6/2006

Last Name

Estes

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Centerville Campus of Indian Hills Community College

University of Iowa

Centerville High School

First Name

Simon

Birth City, State, Country

Centerville

HM ID

EST01

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

Iowa

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

Let's Love Each Other As Neighbors

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

3/2/1938

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Chicken, Corn (Cob)

Short Description

Opera singer Simon Estes (1938 - ) has performed all over the world, with all major international opera companies and in over one hundred roles. He was the first African American male artist to sing at the Bayreuth Festival.

Employment

The Juilliard School

Favorite Color

Beige, Yellow

Timing Pairs
0,0:4560,86:7760,142:11280,225:11760,251:21440,485:21760,494:24000,546:24720,557:25120,563:40779,828:49266,945:54810,1107:56133,1150:65772,1394:76970,1481:77750,1547:80090,1620:82300,1680:92696,1799:97250,1926:97778,1935:99758,2006:102134,2116:108206,2249:115070,2296:120464,2516:121642,2557:121952,2563:122510,2573:129920,2717:134795,2851:135245,2858:145236,3065:147012,3152:158430,3273$0,0:8175,117:14850,290:15225,296:15975,334:17400,360:17775,366:18675,396:19650,410:27702,573:28446,606:30740,657:30988,662:33300,668:33831,680:34126,686:37780,774:39405,811:40640,839:41030,845:43565,909:45905,979:47725,1041:48765,1070:49220,1079:49480,1084:50195,1105:50910,1126:52860,1212:70136,1469:77964,1642:80016,1691:80320,1696:91374,1907:93172,1944:93420,1949:93916,1959:94908,1978:95218,1984:95528,1993:96396,2019:97884,2062:100240,2138:100550,2144:102224,2190:102596,2197:103836,2239:113076,2354:114740,2389:115124,2396:115572,2405:116660,2447:117428,2467:118196,2482:125260,2597:129034,2676:133770,2795:135398,2828:150590,3108:163133,3232:166896,3318:181650,3669
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Simon Estes' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Simon Este defines opera

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Simon Estes lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Simon Estes describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Simon Estes talks about his maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Simon Estes describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Simon Estes describes his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Simon Estes describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Simon Estes describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Simon Estes recounts the discrimination that led to his father's premature death

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Simon Estes recalls his mother's lessons in facing discrimination

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Simon Estes describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Simon Estes describes his childhood home

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Simon Estes describes his childhood neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Simon Estes recalls his childhood neighbors' occupations

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Simon Estes describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Simon Estes describes his family life growing up, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Simon Estes describes his family life growing up, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Simon Estes recalls his parents' pride in his accomplishments

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Simon Estes reflects upon the power of encouragement

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Simon Estes describes the role of religion in his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Simon Estes describes Second Baptist Church in Centerville, Iowa

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Simon Estes reminisces about his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Simon Estes recalls his early aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Simon Estes remembers his time in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Simon Estes recalls discrimination in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Simon Estes remembers joining the Centerville High School choir

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Simon Estes talks about singing in junior high school

Tape: 2 Story: 15 - Simon Estes recalls attending Centerville High School

Tape: 2 Story: 16 - Simon Estes describes his experience of segregation in Iowa

Tape: 2 Story: 17 - Simon Estes recalls his favorite subjects at Centerville High School

Tape: 2 Story: 18 - Simon Estes recalls transferring from Centerville Junior College to the University of Iowa

Tape: 2 Story: 19 - Simon Estes recalls being the first black member of the University of Iowa's The Old Gold Singers

Tape: 2 Story: 20 - Simon Estes remembers joining the Deutsche Oper Berlin

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Simon Estes recalls his performance at the International Tchaikovsky Competition

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Simon Estes recounts his teaching at The Juilliard School in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Simon Estes describes the discrimination he faced from American opera houses

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Simon Estes recounts his most memorable performances in Europe

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Simon Estes talks about his family

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Simon Estes describes founding the Simon Estes Music High School in South Africa

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Simon Estes recalls founding the Simon Estes Educational Foundation

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Simon Estes describes his philanthropic efforts and his honors in Iowa

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Simon Estes relates stories that he shares with his students at Boston University

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Simon Estes recalls meeting Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and HistoryMaker Maya Angelou

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Simon Estes remembers meeting President Lyndon Baines Johnson

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Simon Estes describes his 102nd operatic role

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Simon Estes explains how opera roles are chosen

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Simon Estes describes his gift for memorization

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Simon Estes shares his plans for the future

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Simon Estes describes how his voice has changed during his career

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Simon Estes talks about writing his autobiography

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Simon Estes recalls meeting Roland Hayes

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Simon Estes talks about his awards and honors

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Simon Estes describes his hopes for people of color and women in opera

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Simon Estes describes African Americans' contributions to opera

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Simon Estes describes his frustrations with discrimination in classical music

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Simon Estes reflects upon his life

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Simon Estes describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Simon Estes narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

10$1

DATitle
Simon Estes recounts the discrimination that led to his father's premature death
Simon Estes recalls his performance at the International Tchaikovsky Competition
Transcript
I remember after he [Estes' father, Simon Estes] passed away in 1961, really due to a sociological problem which we call discrimination, in a certain hospital. I was a student at the University of Iowa [Iowa City, Iowa], my mother [Ruth Jeter Estes] said, "Son come, son come to the hospital immediately, your father is very ill." And I went there my dad was crying tears, "Ah, oh my stomach hurts." I can still remember this. He said, "My stomach hurts, please do something," and they had said that he had a heart problem. My father had no history of heart problems at all. So I went to a doctor who was looking after my father, and I stopped him in the corridor, I said, "I'm [HistoryMaker] Simon Estes, I'm a student at the University of Iowa, that's my father, very ill." I said, "My father, I wondered will you get a cardiologist to check my father." He said, "A what?" I said, "A cardiologist." He said, "Where did you learn that word? What is a cardiologist?" Well, immediately the light bulbs went in, went on, I thought, uh oh, he's upset, 'cause I was in pre-med. So I wasn't trying to show off or anything, I was just trying to like talk in his language. I said, "Well, why are you asking me that?" I said, "Cardio, meaning vascular and logos, a Greek stem of the word meaning to study, to study the heart, a heart specialist." I said, "But my father's not complaining about any pains in his thoracic area or his arm," I said, "He's, I think my," oh no it wasn't, I thought the speaker fell off. What is that? It is, is that?$$(OFF CAMERA VOICE): Yeah, put it on top of the mic. Thanks.$$Is that okay?$$(OFF CAMERA VOICE): Yeah, mic's good.$$I don't have one. Does it make any difference?$$(OFF CAMERA VOICE): No.$$And so, he, he said, "Well I'm a doctor of internal medicine" and then "As you know, the heart's on the inside of the body so that's in my area." He said, "He's an old man, he's probably going to die anyhow." And I really sensed, he did not say this, but I sensed he wanted to say, "He's an old black man, it's time for him to die, anyhow" but he didn't put the word black or colored, he probably would've said colored, he's an old colored man, and I said, "Well you have to understand," I said, "My father is really crying out, he's asking me to help." I said, "I love my father and so I'm representing my mother, my sisters [Patricia Estes, Erdyne Estes Whiteside, and Westella Estes]," or whatever else I said to him, I said, "So I just wanted to see if we could find out if it's not his heart. Will you check something else?" I said, "Because he's complaining of pains in his abdomen." "Well, I'm doing all I can do for him. If you want me to withdraw from the case, I will." We had no money to pay. He's in a hospital, he didn't have to pay. I said, "Well I don't want you to withdraw." My father died, it was either that same night or the next night. We had an autopsy performed, he died of a ruptured appendix, and see that didn't have to be. But to let you know the faith of my mother and the way my father and mother both trained us, my mother said to me, "Son," she said, "even though that doctor might have been responsible for your father's premature death, you must not hate him, you must pray for him."$Nineteen sixty-five [1965], West Berlin, Germany, 1966, Moscow [Russia], tell me about what happened in '66 [1966]?$$Well, I was, I was singing in that opera house [Deutsche Oper Berlin] in Germany, in Berlin, and also in Lubeck, Germany and I came back to the states for something and the state department [U.S. Department of State] heard about my having won third prize in the Munich [Germany] international competition [ARD International Music Competition] in 1965, and that I was singing in an opera house in Germany. And to this day I don't know how they knew and yet they invited me down, and I went down and spoke to some people in New York City and they said, this is the first year they're having the Tchaikovsky Competition [International Tchaikovsky Competition] open to singers, vocalists, we would like to send you there, the state department, and represent the United States. I was honored and they, I said, "But what are the requirements?" Well you had to sing a certain number of songs in Russian, I said, "I don't know any Russian." They said, "We'll send you some money, you can study Russian." And I went back to Germany, at the opera house [Theater Lubeck] in Lubeck where I was singing at that time, the money never arrived. It was something told me to go, kind of like, something said for me to, that other situation I told you about. And so, I, I went ahead and went. I flew from East Berlin [Germany] to Moscow with Aeroflot, this horrible Russian airline, and a lady sitting next to me was a German, it was a Russian movie actress who spoke German and I spoke a little German at that time so she asked why I was going, I told her. I said, "Could you tell me a song that is a very famous Tchai- song by Tchaikovsky [Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky] that I could sing," and she taught it to me, she said, "Yes, 'Ni slova, O drug moy,' which means 'Not a word, O my friend.'" And so I learned that song phonetically, from East Berlin to Moscow because the first round of competition you've got to sing one, you only had to sing one song in Russian. And I sang something in Italian and English, or whatever. So, the first round, I was thrilled, I was, advanced to the second round and they only have three rounds, of course. And so my accompanist's name, her name was Irina Zorina [ph.], I will never forget that, she said, in her broken English, "What sing you the second round of Russian" 'cause you know the Russian, the second round you do three songs in Russian, I said, "Ah, ah, ah, that's, I don't know anything." Well, she almost had a heart attack. "No, you must study hard." To make a long story short, in two days I memorized, it was four songs in Russian and, but in one of the arias from the opera 'Eugene Onegin' [Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky] I forgot a big section of it so I forget, I was finished. Well, because I didn't fall apart, 'cause George London was on the jury, he was one of our great opera baritones in the United States, he has since died, he told me back in America when I came back, because I didn't fall apart because I left out a big section of a big Russian aria from, they advanced me to the finals and they, I ended up winning the, the third prize and the third prize was enough that I got invited to the White House [Washington, D.C.] to sing for President Johnson [President Lyndon Baines Johnson] and that helped catapult my career and then that year I would sing in the Hollywood Bowl [Los Angeles, California] singing Tanglewood [Lenox, Massachusetts] with Erich Leinsdorf that same year and just, my career just took off then. And since then, you know, I've sang in every major opera house in the world.

Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon

Opera singer Mattiwilda Dobbs was born on July 11, 1925 in Atlanta, Georgia. The fifth of six daughters, she sang her first solo at age six and began her musical studies in piano during Dobbs’ childhood. A member of the last graduating class from Atlanta University Lab School, Dobbs earned her high school diploma in 1942.

Receiving her B.A. degree in music from Spelman College in 1946, Dobbs began her formal voice training under the direction of Naomi Maise and Willis Laurence James. After graduating, she studied with Lotte Leonard and Pierre Bernac and attended the Mannes College of Music and the Berkshire Music Center’s Opera Workshop.

Dobbs gained notoriety after winning a 1951 international music competition in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1953, Dobbs performed at the La Scala Opera House in Milan, making her the first African American woman to appear in a principal role there. After becoming the first African American to play a major role for the San Francisco Opera in 1955, she debuted at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1956. Refusing to appear before segregated crowds, Dobbs did not perform in her hometown of Atlanta until 1962, where she appeared in front of an integrated audience at the Municipal Auditorium.

In 1973, Dobbs started teaching at the University of Texas at Austin. She also worked as a professor at Spelman College, the University of Illinois, the University of Georgia and Howard University. She ended her teaching career when she retired from Howard in 1991 and she retired from singing two years later.

In 1999, Testament Records released Mattiwilda Dobbs: Songs and Lieder, a CD of her early recordings.

The aunt of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, Dobbs has been married twice. Her first husband, Spanish playwright and journalist, Luis Rodriguez, died a year into their marriage. She then married Swedish newspaper journalist Bengt Janzon for nearly forty years until his death in 1997.

Dobbs passed away on December 8, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Accession Number

A2005.056

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/1/2005

Last Name

Janzon

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widow

Middle Name

Dobbs

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Atlanta University Lab School

Oglethorpe Elementary School

Spelman College

Columbia University

First Name

Mattiwilda

Birth City, State, Country

Atlanta

HM ID

DOB02

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Georgia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Spain, France

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

7/11/1925

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Death Date

12/8/2015

Short Description

Opera singer Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon (1925 - 2015 ) was the first African American woman to appear in a principal role at La Scala Opera House in Milan. Dobbs also desegregated the San Francisco Opera Company and performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dobbs passed away on December 8, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Employment

University of Texas at Austin

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Howard University

University of Georgia

Spelman College

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon talks about the origin of her first name

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes her father's career as a Railway Mail Service clerk

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon recalls her father receiving help from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he was denied his mail clerk pension

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon remembers her father's leadership of the black Masons

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes her upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon remembers her paternal grandmother who was born a slave

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon shares stories from her paternal family

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon tries to remember her earliest memory

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon recalls her family life as a child in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon lists her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes her childhood home on Houston Street in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon recalls her education in Atlanta, Georgia, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes her early singing experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon recalls her education in Atlanta, Georgia, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon remembers her favorite pastimes as a young teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon remembers influential teachers and experiences at Atlanta University Laboratory High School in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon talks about her interest in fashion design

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon recalls how her singing ability developed at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon remembers how she became a student of Lotte Leonard after college

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon recalls her studies at Mannes School of Music and Columbia University in New York and Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon remembers obtaining an Opportunity Fellowship to study song literature in Paris, France

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon recalls how winning the Geneva International Music Competition launched her operatic career

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon explains the difference between lieder recitals, orchestral concerts, and opera

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon recalls making her debut in New York, New York with impresario Sol Hurok

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon remembers living with her first husband in Paris, France and Madrid, Spain

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon reflects upon her American debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes her global opera career

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon remembers integrating Atlanta Municipal Auditorium in Atlanta, Georgia in 1962

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon explains how desegregation in the United States impacted her singing career and living situation

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon explains how she prepares to perform

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon talks about her sister, Irene Dobbs Jackson, and nephew Maynard Jackson, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon recalls her career as a music professor

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes her experience as a professor of music at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon gives advices to African Americans interested in singing opera

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon talks about performing all over the world

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon gives her opinion on rap music

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon remembers the music at her family's church in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon explains why history is important

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes her concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon reflects upon the advantages of her childhood in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon reflects upon the status of historically black colleges and universities

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon narrates her photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$2

DAStory

7$8

DATitle
Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon recalls her father receiving help from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he was denied his mail clerk pension
Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon describes her early singing experiences
Transcript
--I don't know if you're interested, but when he [Janzon's father, John Wesley Dobbs] was getting ready to be retired, he had already started his other job, which was working with the black Masons of Georgia, and he was not head of them then, he was secretary or something, but they had a lot of businesses. They had property; they had an orphan home [Masonic Orphans Home, Americus, Georgia]; they had buildings, and it was a big organization. He already had started working with them, and so when he applied for his pension, the local people in the post office tried to stop it by saying that he had this other job, and they tried to say that he hadn't had his full number of years and all that. And I remember he was very upset because they were trying to keep him from retiring at that age, after thirty years. And he and my mother [Irene Thompson Dobbs] were friends with the McDuffies who Mr. [Irvin] McDuffie was a personal valet of President [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt, even from the time that Roosevelt was governor of New York. And President Roosevelt was an invalid, you know, with--he'd had polio, and so this valet was very close to him. He was the one who put him in bed at night, and was--he had been with him many years. So, my father told him about his troubles. He said, "I'll speak to President Roosevelt." This was when Roosevelt was now president, and he did. And so President Roosevelt said my father could come to Washington [D.C.] and talk to him. And he--oh, by the way, Mrs. [Elizabeth] McDuffie was a maid there, but they were from Atlanta [Georgia] and they kept a house in Atlanta. They would come back down vacations; I got to know them. So my father went there and spoke to the president, and he saw that his claim was legitimate, and it was just prejudice and discrimination, people who hated him trying to keep him from getting his pension, so he said, "I'll arrange for you to meet with the postmaster general," who was Farley, James Farley, then. And he went and spoke to him, and he did--he got his pension for him.$$Wow. Wow.$$So that's, that's an unusual story I think.$And when did you start begin singing or, you know, really learned that you had a talent for singing?$$I always liked to sing, and, as a child, you know, you have a child's voice, and nobody knows if you're going to have a real voice until you go through puberty. But I do remember that when I was six years old, my parents [Irene Thompson Dobbs and John Wesley Dobbs] had a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary party at home, and they invited a lot of people, and in those days, they asked the children to perform, you know. So we all did different things. My older sister who was a very good pianist played the piano, and another sister recited some poems, and they did different things. And then my younger sister [HistoryMaker June Dobbs Butts] and I were supposed to sing this duet, 'When Your Hair Has Turned To Silver, I Will Love You Just The Same.' And we'd practice it and my older sister was playing for us. And so when time came for--she was three, my little sister, and I was six, and when time came for us to perform, she--we couldn't find her anywhere. And we found her, and she was sick. She had eaten too much ice cream and cake and (laughter) and was very sick so had to be put to bed, so I had to sing by myself, and that was my first performance.$$And how was it for you? Did you enjoy having an audience or was it a little--$$Well, I guess I did (simultaneous).$$--(simultaneous) frightening?$$Yes, I suppose so. Yeah, I liked it. But I just knew I had to do it. I didn't have time to get nervous. Later on, when I started being asked to sing, I was very nervous. But I remember that I always loved playing the piano and singing, and we had books of songs at home, folk songs, spirituals, Irish and Scottish folk songs, all kinds of songs, you know. So, I would go through that song book playing and singing. And my mother would have to come into the room and say, "Stop that singing and practice your piano," (laughter) 'cause I really always loved singing and, and, and accompanying myself. But I didn't have any voice until I was about fourteen or fifteen, and then I--somehow I didn't want my school friends to know that I could sing. I was in the chorus at school, and I never did say I could sing solos and they--and, you know, they didn't notice that I had any special voice. But I was afraid. I didn't want to do a solo. So it wasn't until I got to college that I started really taking--I took voice lessons and started seriously with singing. But I remember when I was about fifteen, my mother realized that I had the voice and could sing, and she asked me to sing for a ladies club that she was having, and I cried all day because I didn't want to do it (laughter). And, I think I finally had to do it. And then when I got to college, I started taking voice lessons, but I was not majoring in music; I was majoring in home economics, 'cause at that time, I thought I could be a fashion designer. That's what I was interested in. And it was only when the music people heard me sing, and they came to me, and said, "You've got to change over to music," then I changed the next year and started majoring in music. But I took from this teacher [Naomi Maise] at Spelman College [Atlanta, Georgia], my freshman year--and those were my first voice lessons, she was a very good teacher--and I remember that we had a little recital, which I was to sing. And I was so nervous that I was standing there shaking, and she got up from the piano and came over to speak to me and tell me to not be afraid, you know, and that embarrassed me so. So I told 'em, I said, "This can never happen again." So it really sort of cured me of stage fright, because I was not going to be that embarrassed again (laughter).

MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch

Environmental activist and opera singer MaVynne “Beach Lady” Betsch was born on January 13, 1935 in Jacksonville, Florida. She was raised in one of the most preeminent black families in the South. Betsch is the daughter of Mary and John Betsch, and the great-granddaughter Abraham Lincoln Lewis, who founded Florida’s oldest African-American beach, and Anne Kingsley, the African American wife of plantation owner Zephaniah Kingsley. Betsch was educated at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. Upon completion of her bachelors’ degree in 1955, she moved to Europe where she was an opera singer for ten years.

Since 1975, Betsch made it her full-time mission to preserve and protect American Beach, her great-grandfather’s investment, from development and destruction. She was famously named “Beach Lady,” for her many efforts and dedication to the beach and its inhabitants. ‘Beach Lady’ gave her life savings, some $750,000, to sixty environmental organizations and causes, ten of which she was a lifetime member, and most of them involved animals. ‘Beach Lady’ was featured on CBS and CNN and in such publications as Coastal Living, Essence, Southern Living, Smithsonian and over twenty-five others. Betsch also dedicated part of her life in convincing others that nature and natural things are fine. ‘Beach Lady’ had natural hair that was grown for over twenty years and measured over seven feet long in some areas; she also had one foot long finger nails on one of her hands, trying to prove that things can grow naturally without protein from meat.

Even after being diagnosed with cancer in 2002, which caused the removal of her stomach, ‘Beach Lady’ continued working hard for causes that benefitted others. She developed plans for the American Beach Museum, opened in 2014, which contains the history of American Beach, the town where she lived many of the years of her life. Betsch never married and never had children. She was the older sister of Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, the first female African American president of Spelman College, and president of Bennett College.

Betsch passed away on September 5, 2005 at age 70.

Accession Number

A2004.168

Sex

Female

Interview Date

9/20/2004

Last Name

Betsch

Maker Category
Schools

Boylan-Haven School

Oberlin College

Edward Waters College

Benjamin Banneker Academic High School

First Name

MaVynee

Birth City, State, Country

Jacksonville

HM ID

BET02

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

Desert

Favorite Quote

Live Simply So That Others May Simply Live.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Florida

Birth Date

1/13/1935

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

American Beach

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Bread (Raisin), Garlic, Olives

Death Date

9/5/2005

Short Description

Environmental activist and opera singer MaVynne “Beach Lady” Betsch (1935 - 2005 ) was known for her full time efforts to preserve to preserve the history and ecology of American Beach, Florida, the oldest African American beach and her great-grandfather’s legacy.

Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch's interview, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Slating of MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch's interview, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch traces her maternal ancestry to Anna and Zephaniah Kingsley in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her paternal German ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch recalls her great-grandfather's summer Sunday ritual of church service followed by a family outing to American Beach

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch details her schooling at Boylan-Haven School in Jacksonville, Florida and Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch makes numerological predictions about the coming year, 2005, based on her beloved great-grandfather's date of birth, 1865

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch lists her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her family's home at 8th Street and Jefferson Street in the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch remembers her sister's violin tutor in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her childhood community in Sugar Hill, Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in Jacksonville and American Beach, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes what it was like to grow up in a wealthy African American family during a time of segregation

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch explains her great-grandfather's vision for a truly democratic community at American Beach, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her studies and influential teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch remembers her childhood aspirations and influences in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch recalls how her childhood aspirations evolved

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch remembers her audition for 'Salome' in Germany

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her costume and the set during the Dance of the Seven Veils in the opera 'Salome'

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch explains that the end of her opera career was the beginning of her mission to save American Beach from white developers

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the rich African American history of Jacksonville and American Beach, Florida

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch tells stories from the African American history of Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the environmental and cultural causes to which she has dedicated her family's wealth

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the importance of history, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch recalls meeting famous jazz musicians while living in Europe in the late 1950s and early 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch explains the significance of her clothing and adornments

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about discovering nature upon her move to Ribault Scenic Drive in Jacksonville, Florida in the 1970s

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch explains the links between environmental activism and racial justice

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her plans to travel and advocate for environmental justice

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the value of helping the community

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the importance of history, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch explains her great-grandfather's philosophy of money and his prominence in the black community of Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the current state of American Beach, Florida

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her experiences of living in both black and white communities in the United States and Europe

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about her experiences as an opera student in Europe

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch narrates her photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

4$9

DATitle
MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her mother's family background
MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch reflects upon her legacy
Transcript
Next we'll be exploring your family background.$$Okay.$$Could you please tell me about your mother? What was her name? Where was she born?$$Um-hm. My mother was Mary Frances Lewis Betsch. She was, of course, granddaughter of A.L. Lewis [Abraham Lincoln Lewis]. She was born in Jacksonville [Florida]. And, she attended Wilberforce University [Wilberforce, Ohio]. And, at the time of her death, she was vice president of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company [Jacksonville, Florida]. The insurance company my great-grandfather helped to found in Jacksonville.$$So, did she grow up her entire childhood--$$(Simultaneous) Um-hm. In Jacksonville, right there.$$--(simultaneous) adolescent, in Jacksonville, Florida? What do you know about her growing up?$$Oh, she was apparently very happy. There were only two children. I have--had an uncle. He was Florida's first corporate black lawyer. And, my mother married my dad, John Betsch, who at the time was working up here in Atlanta [Georgia] at Atlanta Life [Insurance Company; Atlanta Life Financial Group, Atlanta, Georgia]. 'Cause don't forget, now--oh, child please, you talking about insurance companies, I mean they were the economic base for the entire black community in United States. There was an Afro in Florida, Afro Life Insurance Company; Atlanta Life in Georgia; North Carolina Mutual [Life Insurance Company, Durham, North Carolina]. They use to call themselves the golden triangle, okay. It was [Alonzo] Herndon in Atlanta, [Charles Clinton] Spaulding in South Carolina [sic. North Carolina], my great-grandfather in Florida. There was Supreme Life [Insurance Company of America] in Chicago [Illinois], Golden Gate [sic. Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company] in [Los Angeles] California. Child, please; we did it all. You couldn't walk into a white bank and get money, are you crazy? We talking about the 1900s, okay. So, mother and daddy were part of that whole community support system, economically for the whole South. And, I grew up with that, and mother was very happy as from what I hear for her childhood. And, she was a musician. She played the organ at the church, oh child. Gorgeous woman, oh, wait 'til you see the pictures; she was gorgeous. She had, you know, most women have the, the sort of like the, what would call it, like a V shape of the hips, mother had the double hip, like the guitar or the violin, oh child please; gorgeous, gorgeous (laughter).$$How would you describe her personality? Who she was?$$She was kind of reserved, like my sister. We make such a study of contrast. My sister by the way is Dr. Johnnetta [B.] Cole, former president of Spelman [College, Atlanta, Georgia], now president of Bennett [College, Greensboro, North Carolina]. Johnnetta is very sophisticated. I'm more of the free spirit type and she--I mean, look at this. I mean, who else would walk around looking like this but somebody who's, who's independent in thought and in the way I live? I'm like my dad. Dad was like that. He was kind of fun, fun. I guess that's why I never married. Because I thought, now you know, I don't need somebody with problems and boring me to tears. Daddy was so much fun. Mother was very cool, very sophisticated, okay. So, she--we have the study of contrast.$$Did she share any stories with you related to her growing up?$$Only in the sense of what it was like. Don't forget now, we're talking about--she was born in 1906. This is the height of really bad segregated times in Florida. And, there was always the fear of the [Ku Klux] Klan [KKK]. Jacksonville was, as you know, right there on the border with Georgia. So, everyone always thinks Florida as being a liberal state. But, we--I guess, because of our proximity to Georgia, we had a lot of the more conservative--and it still is--elements. So, but, where we lived was called Sugar Hill [Jacksonville, Florida]. My grandfather--great-grandfather gave that house, his house, to my mother. And, it was the section to live in Jacksonville, where the, quote, upper class blacks lived. Don't forget now, in black society, it was the undertaker, the preacher, the insurance man, the hairdresser, and the teacher. We were the economic base for the whole South. I mean, these were people you knew had good jobs. These are the people who helped others. So, our house was always like Grand Central Station [Grand Central Terminal, New York, New York], oh, child please. I mean, children coming in. I mean, daddy, the insurance company, all the men coming in from the different branches staying at our house. There were always parties. My great-grandfather's house had twenty-two rooms. It was the showplace. We now know--unfortunately, tore it down. But, it would have--it was financed by blacks. Built by blacks. It would have been probably the oldest of that type in the State of Florida; gorgeous.$(Simultaneous) What do you want your legacy to be?$$Well, I saved that sand dune at NaNa [American Beach, Florida]. That's so important, darling. It's symbolic of so much that's special about American Beach [Florida]. As children, I remember we used to hide--they had a riot down there. The name of the sheriff during segregated time was [Henry J.] Youngblood.$$When was the riot?$$This was like in the '40s [1940s].$$Okay.$$It was awesome. And, we would hide behind--see don't forget now, this sand dune is sixty feet tall, and we would hide back there. And, the quiet--see, Jodi [Merriday]--people have so little place to go now where it's quiet. Sometimes when I walk on the beach and I see a fisherman out there, you know what I say to 'em? I say, "Did you catch any fish?" He say, "No. But, you know what? It's like all my troubles went out with that last tide." Isn't that beautiful?$$Um-hm.$$That you can actually go somewhere. I mean, everything, it's so many--well, first of all, it's too many of us. What are we now, 6.5 billion? And, first we tried group therapy with psych--and now the thing is, now people, for people to turn in to find their inner peace. But, where can you go to find inner peace, where everything is so crowded? And, the beach is one place. Come to American Beach; come--the dune, you can go sit up on the dune and just look out there on that ocean. And, it's like nothing else matters now. All your troubles is gonna go out. Tomorrow will come. Don't worry about it. There's a kind of peace that drugs can't give you, alcohol, nothing else. And, this is something you can get by turning in for quiet, fact is, so. If I've helped to save that, that will be the best legacy I can imagine.