skip to main content

Listen

Read

Watch

Schedules

Programs

Events

Give

Account

Donation Heart Ribbon

INDEPENDENT LENS: When I Rise

Airs Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Barbara Smith Conrad, revisiting The University of Texas at Austin campus, 2007.

"When I Rise" is the inspiring story of Barbara Smith Conrad, a gifted black mezzo-soprano who, as a music student at the University of Texas, found herself in a civil rights storm that changed her life forever.

Barbara Smith Conrad as a student at Prairie View A&M University, before entering the University of Texas in 1956.
Enlarge this image

Above: Barbara Smith Conrad as a student at Prairie View A&M University, before entering the University of Texas in 1956.

Headline from the University of Texas Daily Texan newspaper, May 12, 1957.
Enlarge this image

Above: Headline from the University of Texas Daily Texan newspaper, May 12, 1957.

Barbara had transferred from Prairie View A&M University in the fall of 1956 as part of the first racially integrated undergraduate class at the University of Texas. Shortly after beginning her new life in Austin, Barbara’s innate musical talent attracted the attention of her professors in the School of Music, and she was cast as the romantic lead in the campus rendition of Dido and Aeneas — opposite a white male student.

Opposition to the casting decision fueled a racial controversy that traveled from the university campus to the Texas Legislature. Mere days before the opera opened in May 1957, university officials succumbed to pressure from a small group of radical segregationists. The Dean of Fine Arts asked Barbara to step down, and a white student assumed the role of Dido.

A flood of media coverage ensued, beginning with the Houston Post and quickly escalating to the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and most notably, a controversial article in Time magazine.

Harry Belafonte, an entertainment superstar of the era, read about Barbara, called her at her dorm in Austin, Texas, and the rest — as Barbara says — is history. This small-town girl, whose voice and spirit stem from her roots in east Texas, emerged as an internationally celebrated mezzo-soprano and headlined on stages around the world. In 2009, Barbara returned to Texas and the university, finding the grace and dignity to forgive the past.

"When I Rise" is on Facebook.

Video

Barbara Smith Conrad Interview

Above: “When I Rise” is a feature-length documentary about Barbara Smith Conrad, a gifted University of Texas music student who finds herself at the epicenter of racial controversy, struggling against the odds and ultimately ascending to the heights of international opera.

Video

Video Excerpt: Independent Lens: When I Rise

Above: “When I Rise” is a feature-length documentary about Barbara Smith Conrad, a gifted University of Texas music student who finds herself at the epicenter of racial controversy, struggling against the odds and ultimately ascending to the heights of international opera.

We've upgraded to a better commenting experience!
Log in with your social profile or create a Disqus account.

Please stay on topic and be as concise as possible. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Community Discussion Rules. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus