When I Rise, A Biography of the Amazing Barbara Smith Conrad
A beautiful young woman with an incredible voice went to study music at a university. At an audition for the school’s opera, she was chosen as the lead. Why? Because she was the best. Unfortunately, the school was the University of Texas, the time was 1957, and the young woman was African-American. Was it enough of a blow that local people rose up against her, threatening her life? Apparently not, for the Texas legislature pressured the university to eject her from the opera. Oh, people thought, it wasn’t bad enough to cast a Negro…but opposite a blue-eyed, blonde, white boy? No, it can’t be done.
The beautiful young woman was Barbara Smith, and her story will be told Tuesday evening, February 8, at 10:00 p.m. (E/P) when Independent Lens (PBS) presents the premiere of a documentary from Mat Hames, When I Rise. It details Conrad’s life from early childhood to the present, and is an inspiration on many levels.
When news of Barbara’s rejection went national, Harry Belafonte offered to send her to any school anywhere in the world. She dug in her heels and decided to stay at the University of Texas to complete her degree. Fame awaited her, though, and she went on to become a world famous mezzo-soprano headlining on the great stages of the world.
Uplifting, positive, and thoughtful, When I Rise is part personal biography, part civil rights history, and a tribute to a woman who chose not to be bitter, but to move on with her life. Not allowing herself to be crushed or defeated, Conrad became a model of what can happen when one makes the commitment to pursue one's dreams.