(Clockwise) David Lee Brewer, Bobby R. Henry, Sr., William Riddle and Grace Bumbry
By Bobby R. Henry, Sr.
The students at the Dillard High School of the Performing Arts had the opportunity to really touch history. Grace Bumbry, legendary African/American Mezzo-Soprano and one of the world’s greatest, engaged the students in intimate conversations. Her son David Lee Brewer and publisher of the Westside Gazette Bobby R. Henry, Sr. entertained the students’ questions and conversations which focused around life experiences, professional ambitions and some things to be expected and how to achieve your goals even when others don’t want you to.
Grace Bumbry was born January 4, 1937 in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her obsession with singing began at a very early age. Together with a large and beautiful stunning voice, a creative spirit, daunting courage, and an unwavering determination, she would have one of the most well-known operatic careers of the 20th century. The French called her “La Bumbry.” The Germans, their “Black Venus.” And America hailed her as a “National Treasure.” Particularly noted for her fiery passion, dramatic temperament, stage presence, the attention to detail, and her trailblazing spirit, Grace Bumbry approached life and career with a single-minded focus, unwavering, which took her to the highest realms of music.
During the discussion with the students on the current mindset, progress, and making an impact (even through being yourself), when a question aroused concerning when did she begin to focus on her talents, Ms. Bumbry was quick to point out that success begins at home.
“My mother always instilled in me to be on time and to be prepared. I didn’t have to worry about what I had to do, I was prepared to do it.”
Aside from giving out lessons on the inside tract to reaching the top of her profession, she never once waivered from being who she was.
“I did not do anything that was not planned. I planned out everything I had to do to be prepared. I would write down the things that I had to learn seven times to make sure that I understood them.”
Ms. Bumbry even gave some therapeutic services to those students who needed some emotional stability.
“You have to develop some thick skin. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Who are you she asked one student. How can you be the best when you don’t know who you are?”
In her debuted in Bayreuth (Germany) she was the first Black opera singer to perform, she angered a number of conservative opera patrons in the audience. The stellar performance she gave in Germany, however, earned her the Wagner Medal and worldwide recognition.
Her son David who is a voice coach and has to his coaching credit some of the greatest pop singers, like Beyoncé. This mother and son team is quite impressive. They and well grounded in their spiritual roots and love of God.
“My mother will not do any thing until she prays about it. She knows that it was nobody but God who removed her from a school that did not want her there because she was Black to allow her to sing where Hilter ruled to be lauded as one of the world’s greatest Soprano to every grace the opera stage. It was nobody but God.”
With a career spanning over 60 years, Bumbry was part of the pioneering generation of Black opera singers that followed Marian Anderson, paving the road for later classical musicians and opera singers. She has been honored with her many contributions to the performing arts. She was invited to sing at the White House by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Nineteen years later she performed at President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
Grace Bumbry retired from opera in 1997 and since then has devoted her time to teaching and judging opera competitions. She and several African American contemporaries, including Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, and Reri Grist, are credited with following Marian Anderson, a pioneer in paving the way for African American women in opera.
A child of a railroad porter and a housewife, Bumbry won a local radio singing competition, the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts, in 1954, for which the prize was a scholarship to a local music conservatory. However, because she was Black, the school would not accept her. Instead she went to study at Boston University (Massachusetts), Northwestern University (Illinois), and the Music Academy of the West (California) where she worked with famed German soprano Lotte Lehmann. The New York Post declared Bumbry to have “a glorious voice of creamy quality,” adding that “without a doubt, she is born to sing.”
Please join us for the following engagements for Black History Month: 2020 VAS Icon of the Arts Honoree, Grace Bumbry! Tribute Wednesday, February 12 NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. Concert Celebration Thursday, February 13 Miniaci Theater NSU. Into the Future with Courage and Grace; a diverse series of celebrations honoring accomplishment of the past and inspiring today’s youth for the future! tomorrow! For more information please call Willie Riddle (954) 709-7447