It wasn’t so long ago that black classical musicians and singers were barred from taking part in the musical scene in this country. As part of Black History Month, WQXR public radio presents a timeline of black classical musicians and singers that is depressing and positive at the same time. They are now accepted, even welcomed, but what took so long?
In 1939 Marian Anderson, a great contralto, was refused the use of Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) because she was “colored,” and was scheduled to sing to an integrated audience, so she was invited to sing at the Lincoln Memorial. It is one of the great moments in Black History. Below is a newsreel account of what happened.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with newsreels, they were highlights of the news that were played in movie theaters each week. Since there was no TV at the time, it was the only way for people to actually see what was going on in the world.
In 1955 Marian Anderson was finally allowed to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, but at 58, she was far beyond her prime. Still, it was a great moment that opened the door for other African-Americans to sing at the Met, and at other opera houses across the United States.
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Jonathan Cott scheduled an interview with the great conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein and ended up spending 12 wonderful hours with him. It was the last long interview that Lenny ever gave. Bernstein wanted to experience life at its fullest, and it seems that he did. The Christian Science Monitor reviews Cott’s book, Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein, here.
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Let’s say that you are new to classical music, and would like to start by listening to Beethoven. Where can you find out about his life, and which compositions should you begin with? You might do well to begin by going to the website of Gramophone, the venerable British magazine of classical music. I think it will have exactly what you’re looking for.
Notice that guides to the music of other great composers are listed near the end of the Beethoven article.