Barbara Smith Conrad, Singer at Center of Integration Dispute, Dies at 79

More than 100 students rose in protest. Eight state legislators expressed indignation. A petition circulated, gathering 1,500 signatures. Mr. Chapman was hanged in effigy from a balcony in the State Capitol.

Photo

Ms. Conrad just before entering the University of Texas in 1956.

Credit
Ward Photo, via Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

Ms. Smith tried to smooth matters over. “After the first shock and hurt had passed,” she told The Daily Texan, “I began to realize that the ultimate success of integration at the university is much more important than my appearance in the opera.”

As wire services and Time magazine picked up the story, national figures spoke out, including Sidney Poitier and Eleanor Roosevelt. The singer Harry Belafonte stepped forward, offering to pay for Ms. Smith’s musical education at any school in the world.

She chose to remain at Texas and, after earning her music degree in 1959, went on to a successful operatic career under the name Barbara Smith Conrad, appearing at major opera houses around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and performing in concert with leading symphony orchestras.

“My heart wanted to go to Fisk,” Ms. Conrad told The New York Times in 2011, referring to the historically black university in Nashville. “But you didn’t run away if your staying could make a difference — it could encourage other black kids. Mostly, it was a matter of pride.”

Ms. Conrad died on Monday in Edison, N.J. She was 79. The cause has not yet been determined, said Bettye Neal, a cousin. Ms. Conrad had advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

Barbara Louise Smith was born on Aug. 11, 1937, in Atlanta, Tex., south of Texarkana. Growing up, she divided her time between…

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