A Documentary Film and Music Program about Barbara Smith Conrad Internationally Acclaimed Opera Singer Raised in Northeast Texas
February 2, 2018– In honor of Black History Month, the Texarkana College Department of Music will present the screening of When I Rise, a documentary film about the life of Barbara Smith Conrad, an internationally acclaimed African-American opera singer raised in Northeast Texas. Conrad, who passed away last year at age 79, is best remembered for her talent as a mezzo-soprano and as a pioneer in the civil rights movement in Texas. Conrad was one of the University of Texas’ first black undergraduates in the 1950s.
The film is part of a special Black History Month program that will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 4 p.m. in the Stilwell Humanities Center Music Hall on the Texarkana College main campus. The program will feature tribute songs from the film performed by local soprano Candace Taylor, readings by TC music students from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, I Have a Dream, and other special guests and speakers.
Mary Scott Goode, TC music professor, said she got the idea to feature Conrad’s film when she read about Conrad’s life and accomplishments in her obituary last May. She said Conrad’s courage, tenacity and forgiveness to overcome extreme prejudice spurred her interest to learn more about Conrad and her experience as a college student at UT. Goode obtained a copy of the short film and watched it for herself, an experience she calls transformational.
“I think everyone should see this documentary film that tells the story of a beautiful and talented young woman who overcame every barrier imaginable to earn her college degree and a chance at her dream career,” Goode said. “Conrad left a legacy of hope for students who have natural talent, but just need to be given the proper support, training and opportunities to thrive.”
Goode said professors from TC’s music department courses do just that.
“We have just as much talent right here in our area as anywhere else in the country,” said Goode. “We work with students who show up here with all kinds of natural skills, and we help develop them.”
Goode said she is always on the lookout for musicians from our region who can provide inspiration and serve as role models for students.
“When I heard about Barbara Smith Conrad, I knew immediately she was that kind of person,” Goode said. “When I learned more about her, I was even more impressed. Not only was she a great musician, but she was a civil rights hero and pioneer, and she believed in the power of education. She was brave, and she persevered to achieve her goals in a dignified and beautiful way.”
Goode said the film documents Conrad’s experience as a 19-year-old talented music student cast in the lead role for the university’s student opera production of Dido and Aeneas, a classic British opera and love story. However, because Conrad was black and the male lead performer was white, a racial controversy arose leading to her removal from the performance. The controversy gained national attention in the 1950’s when media sources learned that a state legislator from Northeast Texas was the force behind the pressure placed on the university to remove Conrad from the opera or face loss of funds from state appropriations.
“TC is proud to host the film on campus and to honor Ms. Conrad,” said Goode. “Her story serves as a catalyst for change in the history of our state and nation. I only wish I had known her while she was alive, and maybe I could have brought her here to TC.”