Thursday, October 1, 2009

'Aida's Brothers & Sisters: Black Voices In Opera And Concert', From Marian Anderson To Present

[“Aida's Brothers & Sisters: Black Voices In Opera And Concert”; Cover Photo of Grace Bumbry; Arthaus DVD (85 mins.) (July 2009)]

AfriClassical does not often write about the world of opera, but this DVD on art singers of African descent has a special resonance for us. Living singers speak directly to the camera. Their testimony is supplemented with powerful film footage. Liner notes reproduce a letter dated February 26, 1939 from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, which begins as follows:

“I am afraid that I have never been a very useful member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, so I know it will make very little difference to you whether I resign, or whether I continue to be a member of your organization. However, I am in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to a great artist. You have set an example which seems to me unfortunate, and I feel obliged to send in to you my resignation.”

The notes tell us further:“Following this well-publicized controversy, the federal government invited Anderson to sing at a public recital on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. On Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, some 75,000 people came to hear the free recital. The incident put both the artist and the issue of racial discrimination in the national spotlight.” The film makes it clear that Marian Anderson summoned the inner resources to rise above the notorious public controversy, turning her exclusion from Constitution Hall into a triumph that made history for herself and the cause of Civil Rights.

One singer after another relates individual travails and the collective triumph which took shape during the decades following 1939. Still, the pride of achieving acceptance for one's talent, regardless of color, is tempered in at least one interview by a belief that some historic advances are presently being reversed. We recommend “Aida's Brothers & Sisters” as a means of sharing the insights and memories of several of the most accomplished living art singers of African descent.

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