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Anne Brown
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    (August 9, 1912-March 13, 2009)
    Born in Baltimore, Maryland
    Portrayed Bess in the original production of George Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess' (1935)
    Appeared on Broadway in 'Pins and Needles' (1937), 'Mamba's Daughters' (1939) and a revival of 'Porgy and Bess' (1942)
    Appeared in the Gershwin biopic 'Rhapsody in Blue' (1945)
    Performed in Gian Carlo Menotti's operas 'The Medium' (1946) and 'The Telephone' (1947)
    Became a Norwegian citizen (1948)
    All three of her marriages ended in divorce.
    She auditioned for ‘Porgy and Bess’ by performing Brahms and Schubert lieder, and was offended when Gershwin asked her to perform a Negro spiritual.
    She said about her father’s reaction to ‘Porgy and Bess,’ ‘He especially didn’t like his daughter showing her legs and all that.’
    She reportedly could sing scales when she was nine months old.
    She was the first black vocalist to attend Juilliard.
    She won the Margaret McGill Prize as the best female singer at Juilliard.
    Bess was a secondary character in DuBose Heyward’s novel ‘Porgy,’ but Gershwin was so taken with her voice that he kept adding material for her, expanding the role to a co-lead.
    She first suggested to Gershwin that ‘Summertime’ would be the big hit from the opera, prompting him to add a reprise of the tune in the third act.
    New York Times music critic Olin Downes praised her performance as Bess as ‘a high point of interpretation.’
    She joined her ‘Porgy and Bess’ co-star Todd Duncan in successfully protesting segregated seating at the National Theater in Washington, DC (1936).
    She had to end her music career because of asthma (1953).
    She received the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America from the Peabody Institute in 1998 – seventy years after the Institute had denied her admission because of her race.

Credit: C. Fishel

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