How I Celebrate Black History Month

Soprano Reri Grist

I have had a subscription to Opera News most of my life. This started back in the 1950s when my Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Ross, semi-pro classical singers and opera fans, initiated little Jan into the world of classical music and opera. I will be forever grateful for that.

I have kept a few of the older issues, and was recently perusing the January 2002 issue. This was back in the day when the magazine had so much to offer…in depth articles about the operas being presented that month by the Met, lively artist interviews, and tons of opera reviews from all over the world (a graphic contrast to today’s sadly thin publication which is more about fashion shoots of glamorous female singers and, among other things, a quarter of the live opera and recording reviews).

Brian Kellow had a monthly column back then called “On the Beat”, which offered short pieces about current performances and artists, with Brian’s interesting editorializing.

I came across a photo of four of the legendary African American singers which made my eyes pop, and they are: Martina Arroyo, Grace Bumbry, Reri Grist, and Shirley Verrett. The caption under their names says, “at the Met last year.”

So if this issue is dated 2002, this photo was probably taken sometime in 2001. I just looked up Reri Grist, the oldest of the four, and as of this writing, she is still living. I found a wonderful WQXR interview of Ms. Grist from July of 2015, when she was 83. (!/story/soprano-reri-grist-life-adventures/).

Her speaking voice is so youthful, expressive, and warm. Singing keeps you young! You can find much more information about this beautiful artist here.

The Opera News story went on to describe Grace Bumbry’s studies with the great German soprano Lotte Lehmann…at times a “love/hate” relationship. Isn’t that frequently the way between a talented singer and a high-level, demanding teacher?


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