Barbara Smith Conrad Documentary ‘When I Rise’ To Premier At Paramount Theater

Barbara Smith Conrad in the Capitol rotunda

A tear-jerking new documentary on the life of opera singer, civil rights pioneer, and University of Texas Distinguished Alumna Barbara Smith Conrad will debut this weekend at, of all places, the Paramount Theater.

As a UT student in the 1950s, Conrad was denied entry into the Paramount because she was African American. She became more widely known outside of Austin than the theater itself, though, after a 1957 campus incident caused a nationwide uproar.

Conrad was cast as the lead female performer in a student production of the opera Dido and Aeneaus opposite a white male. Under pressure from the Texas Legislature, particularly the representative from Conrad’s own district, the president of the University caved and had Conrad removed.

The ensuing controversy spread nationwide, and although Conrad was offered the chance to transfer to any college in the country, she chose to stay at Texas and finish her degree.

That she did, in 1959, before going on to a earn international renown as a mezzo-soprano.

When I Rise, a feature-length documentary produced by the Briscoe Center for American History and Austin’s Alpheus Media, follows Conrad’s life through her time at UT, her career as an opera singer, and her ultimate reconciliation with the Texas Legislature years later.

Reviews of the film have been overwhelmingly positive. A friend who attended last week’s sneak peek said there was a not a dry eye in the theater when it ended.

The show premiers Sunday, March 14, and tickets are available to the public. See two clips here.

Read an excellent interview with Conrad by former Alcalde editor Avrel Seale here or below.



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