Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

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Remembering Barbara Smith Conrad, mezzo-soprano, Civil Rights trailblazer

In 2009, I had the privilege of interviewing Barbara Smith Conrad, one of the first African Americans admitted to UT and and who in 1957 was removed from singing the lead role in a music department production of the opera “Dido and Aeneas” when she was cast opposite a white student.

Conrad tops the list as one of the most engaging, fascinating interviews I've done in my career.

Today, Smith passed away in New York from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. She was 79.


Back in 1957 members of the Texas legislature pressured UT officials to remove Conrad from her stage appearance. Threats were made against Conrad’s life. 

The national media picked on her story, singer Harry Belafonte intervened inviting Conrad to New York. Actor Sydney Poitier and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt reached out to Conrad too.

Here's the story:

"Higher Note: Texas lawmakers will honor mezzo-soprano who lost a leading role because of prejudice half a century ago, when she among the first African American students at UT"