Barbara Smith Conrad
|Barbara Smith Conrad|
|Born||Barbara Louise Smith
August 11, 1937
Atlanta, Texas, U.S.
|Died||May 22, 2017
Edison, New Jersey, U.S.
|Alma mater||The University of Texas at Austin|
Barbara Smith Conrad (August 11, 1937 – May 22, 2017) was an American operatic mezzo-soprano of international acclaim. In 1957, she became the focus of a racial controversy revolving around her role in a student opera at The University of Texas at Austin. Pressure from the Texas Legislature forced her removal from the cast, and her story received national media coverage.
Conrad went on to perform with Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, Teatro Nacional in Venezuela, and many others. She complemented her performing activities with artist residencies and master classes, establishing herself as one of the foremost builders of voice both in the U.S. and abroad. She was the co-director and co-founder of the Wagner Theater Program, and maintained a private vocal studio in Manhattan. Conrad worked closely with the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, which is the home of the university's Endowment for the Study of American Spirituals. She was the subject of the film When I Rise, produced by the Briscoe Center and directed by Mat Hames.
Born Barbara Louise Smith, she was raised in Center Point near Pittsburg, Texas. The youngest of five children, Smith displayed an early love and aptitude for music. As early as age six, Smith performed with her brother the complicated music of Mozart. Her musical roots can be traced to her family's home in the east Texas community of Center Point. It was here that she and her siblings explored a variety of musical genres on the family piano and in their local Baptist church.
Smith was admitted into the University of Texas at Austin in 1956. She was part of the first class of African American undergraduate students to attend the university. In 1957, Smith auditioned for, and was awarded, the leading role in the university's production of the opera Dido and Aeneas. Her role of Dido, the Queen of Carthage, placed her opposite a white student as Aeneas, her lover.
The casting of Smith incited a campus-wide controversy that escalated to the Texas legislature. The president of the university was advised to remove her from the cast. Her story was covered by national news media, prompting a carte blanche offer from Harry Belafonte to underwrite her studies at the institution of her choice. However, she chose to remain at the University of Texas at Austin.
She was one of the early pioneers in the movement to create a more open and diverse university community, and her accomplishments and fortitude as a student represent an important chapter in the university's history. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Texas in 1959. After graduation, she joined Equity, the entertainment labor union. Equity already had a Barbara Smith registered. It was at this time that she began using her father's first name, Conrad.
Conrad performed leading operatic roles with the Vienna State Opera, Teatro Nacional in Venezuela, Houston Grand Opera, New York City Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, and many other opera companies throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and South America. She performed with the Metropolitan Opera for eight years, from 1982 to 1989, under the direction of some of the world's leading conductors, including Maazel, Bernstein, and Levine. She performed much of the mezzo-soprano concert repertoire with the world's greatest orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the London, Boston, Cleveland, and Detroit symphonies.
In addition to her operatic stage roles, Conrad played Marian Anderson in the 1977 ABC movie Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years, and in 1994 followed that performance with a European concert/recital tour commemorating the renowned contralto. In 1987, she was invited by President Reagan to sing at the White House in honor of Lady Bird Johnson's seventy-fifth birthday. A personal highlight for her was an invitation to perform for Pope John Paul II during his 1995 visit to New York City. Among her many other accomplishments was her recording of a collection of Negro spirituals with the choir of the Convent Avenue Baptist Church, released on the Naxos label to critical acclaim.
Conrad complemented her performing activities with artist residencies and master classes, establishing herself as one of the foremost builders of voice both in the U.S. and abroad. She was the co-director and co-founder of the Wagner Theater Program at the Manhattan School of Music, and maintained a private vocal studio in Manhattan.
When I Rise
When I Rise is a feature-length documentary directed by Mat Hames and produced by award-winning producers James Moll and Michael Rosen about Conrad, a gifted University of Texas music student who finds herself at the epicenter of racial controversy, struggling against the odds and ultimately ascending to the heights of international opera.
- WORLD PREMIERE: South by Southwest Film Festival, Austin, Texas (March 2010)
- Dallas International Film Festival, Dallas, Texas (April 2010)
- Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Toronto, Canada (May 2010)
- Indianapolis International Film Festival (July 2010)
- New York City International Film Festival (August 2010)
- New Orleans Film Festival (October 2010)
- Starz Denver Film Festival (November 2010)
- Santa Barbara International Film Festival (January 2011)
- San Diego Black Film Festival (January 2011)
- Awards and Nominations:
- Winner: Audience Award Feature - Indianapolis International Film Festival
- Winner: Black Expressions Award - Indianapolis International Film Festival
- Nominee: Music Documentary Award – International Documentary Awards (IDA)
- Winner: Social Justice Award for Documentary Film - The Fund for Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara International Film Festival)
University of Texas
In the fall of 2010, the University of Texas introduced five new broadcast advertising spots featuring the voice of Barbara Smith Conrad.
Awards and Honors
2013 Life Time Achievement Award, National Black History Month in Palm Springs CA. 2011 Texas Medal of Arts Awards - Lifetime Achievement
2009 Texas House of Representatives passes a Resolution to Honor Barbara Smith Conrad 
1985 Distinguished Alumnus Award - The Ex-Students' Association of The University of Texas
- Grimes, William (May 24, 2017). "Barbara Smith Conrad, Singer at Center of Integration Dispute, Dies at 79". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2017-05-25. Retrieved May 25, 2017.
- "Barbara Smith Conrad - Biography". The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 2011-02-01.
- "Barbara Smith Conrad: Mezzo-soprano, Civil Rights Pioneer". The Alcalde. Archived from the original on 2011-02-09. Retrieved 2011-02-01.
- "Publicity Materials - Press Kit". The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin. Archived from the original on 8 February 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-01.
- "University debuts five new broadcast ads". The University of Texas at Austin. Archived from the original on 2011-01-09. Retrieved 2011-02-01.
- "Texas Cultural Trust announces 2011 Honorees for Texas Medal of Arts Awards". KEYE TV, Austin TX. Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2011-02-01.
- "MEDIA ADVISORY: Senator Kirk Watson Sponsors Resolution to Honor Barbara Smith Conrad". The Senate of Texas: State Senator Kirk Watson. Retrieved 2011-02-08.
- Barbara Smith Conrad Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Fine Arts
- UT Austin, Alumna Heal Racial Wounds
- Mezzo-soprano Barbara Smith Conrad wows Texas House with gospel tune
- Lawmakers will honor mezzo-soprano who lost a leading role because of prejudice half a century ago, when she was among the first African American students on UT campus.
- Barbara Smith Conrad: A diva's return, triumphant
- Barbara Smith Conrad; Opera Singer
- Texas Medal of Arts