The story of Barbara Smith Conrad, a gifted music student who struggled against the odds to reach the heights of international opera.
In 1957, Barbara Smith Conrad, who was part of the first racially integrated undergraduate class at the University of Texas, became the central figure in a civil rights storm that changed her life forever. An object lesson on living life with dignity and grace, When I Rise airs Wednesday, February 8 at 7 p.m on WXXI World (cable 524/DT21.2). Cast in an opera as the romantic lead opposite a white male student, Conrad became embroiled in a bitter controversy that made its way to the halls of the Texas legislature, where segregationist representatives applied pressure on the university. When Conrad was expelled from the opera, the incident escalated to the national stage, prompting singer Harry Belafonte — then at the height of his fame — to offer to underwrite her studies at the institution of her choice. Rather than flee, Conrad chose to stay at the University of Texas and complete her degree, graduating in 1959. This small-town girl, whose voice and spirit stem from her roots in East Texas, emerged from the incident to become an internationally celebrated mezzo-soprano and headliner on stages around the world.
The film is a production of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and was directed by Mat Hames, produced by James Moll and Michael Rosen, executive produced by Don Carleton, and made possible in part by AT&T.