Opera Singer Who Faced Discrimination at UT-Austin in 1957 Profiled in Documentary, 'When I Rise'

Mar 17, 2010

In 1957, Barbara Smith Conrad was studying music at the University of Texas in Austin. She was cast as Dido in a student production of Henry Purcell’s opera "Dido and Aeneas." 

Two weeks before the curtain, Conrad learned that she would not be singing the role of Dido, because a state congressman had objected to an African-American woman being cast opposite a white leading man in a romantic role.  

UT’s president at the time, Logan Wilson, bowed to pressure from the state legislature and pulled Conrad from the cast. The national press soon picked up on the story, and popular singer Harry Belafonte offered to pay Conrad’s way to any other school in the world. 

Instead, Conrad finished her degree at UT, and went on to great success with the New York City Opera and Metropolitan Opera. Her story is chronicled in the documentary "When I Rise." 

In this interview, Conrad talks about her experience at the University of Texas, her early life in Center Point, her love of spirituals, and why she eventually came back to Austin.

Extra: An additional interview on this page features the director of the film "When I Rise," Mat Hames, and Executive Producer, Dr. Don Carleton.