Sunday, September 18, 2016


The American people were not allowed to hear these heavenly voices, while Europe welcomed People of Colour before World War Two. Rollin Van Smythe, Paul Robeson and Josephine Baker were among the beautiful voices that fled to Europe to escape the hate. When I was a girl, I was fortunate enough to know Rollin Van Smythe and to share a precious few minutes with Paul Robeson. Negro people, Jazz musicians, opera singers, might perform in some places for "white" audiences, but they could not eat in restaurants with their white counterparts and friends. They could not find a bed in most hotels. The "Whites" might enjoy their beautiful music, but they would not share bread with the sources of that blessing.

This is  about an intriguing documentary about black singers of classical music set against the background of black emancipation in politics and society in the US.
Think of today's top operatic voices, and black owners of them are as likely to come into the list as white ones: Willard White, Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle to name only three. We know it wasn't always thus Paul Robeson's struggles to be recognised as a great singer, instead of a black singer, went on for many decades.
But this programme reveals just how hard the journey to acceptance of America's black singers has been. It opens with one of the greatest voices of the 20th century: Marian Anderson and a clip of her magnifi cent performance of Ave Maria. The film offers newsreel footage from her landmark 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial, which was held after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her access to their Constitution Hall venue.
But the black tradition of classical singing goes back even further: Before Leontye Price, Jessye Norman and even before Marian Anderson, Sissieretta Jones was arguably the greatest black performer of 19th century America and certainly the first great black diva. Sissieretta Jones , the Black Patti, an allusion to Italian-American primadonna Adelina Patti, performed before four American presidents, mesmerized critics and audiences alike and was so successful that at one concert in New Jersey 1,000 visitors had to be turned away.
The film Aida's Brothers and Sisters intends to focus the viewer's gaze particularly on the black classic and also on the fascinating mixed forms that have developed from the confrontation of white and black music in the last hundred years. The encounter with the powerful personalities of the singers and their music will reveal the humour, the lust for life, and the spiritual depth of black culture, and will perhaps add a dash of colour to a white fin de si├Ęcle culture that is in danger of contracting anaemia.
A fascinating documentary with historical and contemporary film and video records of performances by Leontyne Price, Simon Estes, Grace Bumbry, Reri Grist and many others.
Aida's Brothers & Sisters is an absorbing look, with fabulous archival footage, at the struggle of African-American singers to achieve such stages as the Metropolitan, from Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson to Leontyne Price and Simon Estes. -New York Magazine
Aida's Brothers & Sisters is far more than an entertaining episode about the unique history lesson that celebrates our rich and
varied heritage -Philadelphia Tribune

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