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Anne Brown

Soprano legend Anne Wiggins Brown was the first person to play the leading role of “Bess” in the production of Porgy and Bess on Broadway. Brown was born on August 9, 1912, in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father, Harry Brown, was a prominent physician and a grandson of a slave. Her mother, Mary Allen Wiggins, descended from a family of singers and studied voice and piano in New York. Brown was named after her paternal grandmother, Annie E. Brown, a gifted singer and evangelist who toured the southeastern United States spreading the gospel. Her maternal grandfather, William Henry Wiggins, was known for his lyric tenor voice. Brown and her three sisters lived in a segregated community, where their mother tutored them in piano and involved the sisters in music and theatre. At twelve years old, Brown attended Frederick Douglass High School which had a superb music program. She studied music with W. Llewellyn Wilson. After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School, Brown auditioned for the Juilliard School and became the first African American to win the prestigious Margaret McGill Scholarship. Brown was sixteen years old when she began studying with Lucia Dunham at Juilliard.

Brown’s scholarship drew the attention of George Gershwin who was seeking singers for his new opera, then called simply Porgy. After auditioning for him, singing the spiritual City of Heaven without accompaniment, he awarded her the part of “Bess”. The two worked closely on the opera, rewriting the third act to have her sing Summertime and even changing the opera’s title to Porgy and Bess, reflecting the importance of her role. On October 10, 1935, Porgy and Bess premiered at New York’s Alvin Theater, with Brown as its first “Bess”. Brown went on to appear in the Broadway play Mamba’s Daughters and in the film Rhapsody in Blue. She reprised her role as “Bess” in various revivals of Porgy and Bess and between 1942 and 1948, and achieved celebrated performances as a concert artist at Carnegie Hall and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

In 1948, Brown settled in Oslo, Norway, where she met and married Norwegian Olympic ski jumper, Thorleif Schjelderup. Until the early 1950s, she worked as a professional musician on productions like Menotti’s The Medium and The Telephone. However, during a European tour in 1953, she was diagnosed with asthma, which ended her singing career. After this, Brown worked several years as a music teacher. Among her students were actress Liv Ullmann, jazz singer Karin Krog and folk singer Ase Kleveland. She also staged several operas in France and Norway. In 2000, Brown was awarded Norway’s Council of Cultures Honorary Award.

Brown passed away on March 13, 2009, in Oslo, Norway, at the age of 96.

Accession Number

A2006.145

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/16/2006 |and| 11/17/2006 |and| 11/18/2006 |and| 11/18/2006

11/18/2006

Last Name

Brown

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

P.S. 112

Frederick Douglass High School

The Juilliard School

First Name

Anne

Birth City, State, Country

Baltimore

HM ID

BRO39

Favorite Season

Winter

Sponsor

Royal Norwegian Embassy

State

Maryland

Favorite Vacation Destination

Italy

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Norway

Birth Date

8/9/1912

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Oslo

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Death Date

3/13/2009

Short Description

Classical singer Anne Brown (1912 - 2009 ) was a soprano legend who played "Bess" in the original production of George Gershwin's, "Porgy and Bess." She also starred in other Broadway shows, and achieved celebrated performances as a concert artist at Carnegie Hall and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Employment

Broadway

Singing Teacher

Classical Performer

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Anne Brown's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Anne Brown lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Anne Brown describes her parents' family backgrounds

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Anne Brown describes her father's personality and physical appearance

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Anne Brown remembers her childhood in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Anne Brown describes her father's office in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Anne Brown describes her family's history of religious singing

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Anne Brown describes her early interest in music

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Anne Brown describes her education in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Anne Brown describes her aspirations as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Anne Brown describes the types of music she listened to as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Anne Brown recalls her scholarship to Juilliard School of Music

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Anne Brown recalls her early determination to become a singer

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Anne Brown recalls her training at The Julliard School in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Anne Brown describes her sisters' education and careers

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Anne Brown remembers Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Anne Brown describes the lack of racial tension at Juilliard School of Music

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Anne Brown recalls her parents' serious personalities

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Anne Brown describes her experiences of racial discrimination in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Anne Brown plays 'The Man I Love'

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Slating of Anne Brown's interview, session 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Anne Brown recalls auditioning for George Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess'

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Anne Brown remembers George Gershwin's writing process for 'Porgy and Bess'

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Anne Brown describes some of the original cast members of 'Porgy and Bess'

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Anne Brown reflects upon African Americans' portrayal in 'Porgy and Bess'

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Anne Brown describes her father's thoughts on her role in 'Porgy and Bess'

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Anne Brown recalls when George Gershwin renamed 'Porgy and Bess'

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Anne Brown describes her protests against segregation during 'Porgy and Bess'

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Anne Brown describes her other roles on Broadway

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Anne Brown recalls her first marriages

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Anne Brown recalls some of her performances in Norway

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Anne Brown plays a recording of her performance of 'Nightingale'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Anne Brown plays a recording of her performance of 'Warum sind den die Rosen so blass'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Anne Brown plays a recording of her performance of 'Pleurez, Pleurez mes yeux'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Anne Brown recalls her life and career in Norway

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Anne Brown describes her daughter's boarding school in Switzerland

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Anne Brown remembers her decision to live in Norway

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Anne Brown recalls reprising the role of Bess in 'Porgy and Bess'

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Anne Brown describes her classical singing career in Norway

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Anne Brown describes her performances with Gian Carlo Menotti

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Anne Brown describes her experiences of racial discrimination

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Anne Brown reflects upon civil rights in America

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Anne Brown recalls fellow African American opera and classical singers

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Anne Brown remembers her singing pupils

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Anne Brown remembers directing operas in Norway

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Anne Brown talks about her autobiography, 'Sang Fra Frossen Gren'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Anne Brown narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Anne Brown recalls her election as an honorary citizen of Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Anne Brown narrates her photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Anne Brown narrates her photographs, pt. 3

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Anne Brown narrates her photographs, pt. 4

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Anne Brown plays 'I Got Rhythm' and 'Love Walked In' on the piano

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Slating of Anne Brown's interview, session 4

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Anne Brown's daughter lists her favorites

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Anne Brown's daughter remembers her mother's voice

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Anne Brown's daughter reflects upon her mother's career

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Anne Brown's daughter remembers moving to Europe with her mother

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Anne Brown's daughter remembers her aunt and father

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Anne Brown's daughter recalls meeting Thorleif Schjelderup

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Anne Brown's daughter recalls listening to her mother's vocal practice

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Anne Brown's daughter describes her childhood aspirations

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Anne Brown's daughter remembers living in Italy

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Anne Brown's daughter remembers her mother's voice students

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Anne Brown's daughter lists her favorite singers

Tape: 7 Story: 13 - Anne Brown's daughter reflects upon her life away from the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Anne Brown's daughter remembers her mother's cooking

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Anne Brown's daughter recalls growing up as the child of a celebrity

DASession

1$2

DATape

1$3

DAStory

10$2

DATitle
Anne Brown describes her aspirations as a child
Anne Brown recalls auditioning for George Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess'
Transcript
Did your parents [Mary Wiggins Brown and Harry Brown] continue to encourage you during this time to pursue music?$$If they encouraged me?$$Did they encourage you to pursue music as a profession, to become a professional musician?$$No, I don't think they had anything to do, I think that they inspired me to sing and to play the piano and to learn music but they didn't have much work to do because I was already in a sense tuned into that.$$Well your father was a doctor and you would, people would assume that most little girls would look up to their fathers and him being a doctor and perhaps want to become one themselves.$$Yeah, I had those ideas once in a while. I mean, floating, floating, but no, he had to work too hard and had to go out at night and the day. No, I didn't want that kind of life. I wanted a life where I could sing and be with other people who made music and so on. If I thought about it at all. Because who knows?$$(PAULA SCHJELDERUP): It was a different era for a woman in those days.$$Yeah that's true.$But going, continuing with Juilliard [Juilliard School of Music; The Juilliard School, New York, New York], because that's where we left off yesterday, at, when you were at Juilliard. You, there you read in the newspaper while you were at Juilliard that Gershwin [George Gershwin] was writing 'Porgy' ['Porgy and Bess'].$$Yes.$$So tell me about, tell me the story of reading it in the paper and what you thought about being a part of it.$$Well, I read it in the paper that George Gershwin was writing this opera based on, who wrote the story (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Dubose Heyward.$$Huh?$$Dubose Heyward.$$Dubose Heyward wrote the story?$$Yes, ma'am.$$I'm glad you told me. (Laughter) I'm glad you reminded me and I telephoned and got his secretary on the phone and said I would like to come and sing for him and get a part in the opera. She said, "Yes, come the next day or the day after," which I did. And I found him a charming and knowing man, music, and with a sense of humor. So, he said, "Can you come tomorrow and sing for my brother?"$$So you met Ira [Ira Gershwin] as well?$$I met Ira, of course, Ira was his right hand. And then two days later, I had to sing for someone else, don't ask me who the other person was, but it was one of those who--$$(PAULA SCHJELDERUP): Then you sang something acappella to show him that you were trained in the classic condition.$$Oh, I sang classical music the whole time. I had a pianist and I sang opera and so on. And very little jazz, because I didn't sing jazz (simultaneous).$$(PAULA SCHJELDERUP): (Simultaneous) But I mean, I think when you sang for Gershwin--$$That's what I'm talking about.$$I read also that towards the end, he asked you to sing a Negro spiritual, a gospel song to see how you handled gospel music.$$Yes. Well, I must have done it (laughter). And then, it was very strange because every time I visit, Gershwin would say, George would say, "Come back in two days, or tomorrow can you sing for this person, that one?" Well, I sang for all of New York [New York] individually, you know.$$And then he--$$(PAULA SCHJELDERUP): And then you asked to sing 'Summertime' although that was Clara's song (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) No, no, no, that wasn't written yet. I mean after all he hasn't written the opera yet. He just has a outline and those days, it was very, very early in the picture of his writing, and doing that, but oh yes, he asked me to sing Negro spirituals, and, I don't know about gospel music. I've forgotten how to use those terms now, gospel and Negro spiritual--$$I think there are about the same.$$Everything goes together.$$Yes, ma'am.$$So, if you say, "Yes, ma'am," anymore you are going to make me feel like an old, old, old (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well--$$--lady.$$I'm sorry. I will simply say, "Yes."$$Not just ninety, not just ninety, but ninety-eight.$$I only do that because I'm from the South, you must understand (laughter).$$I know you are and it is so charming (laughter). I'm just teasing you now, I hope you understand that.$$Yes, I do.