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 Anne Brown

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Anne Brown

  • Birth 9 Aug 1912 Baltimore, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA
  • Death 13 Mar 2009 Oslo, Oslo kommune, Oslo fylke, Norway
  • Burial Oslo, Oslo kommune, Oslo fylke, Norway
  • Memorial ID 34905462

Opera Singer. A soprano, she is remembered for creating the role of Bess in George Gershwin's 1935 "Porgy and Bess". Born Anne Wiggins Brown, she was raised in Baltimore by a well-off family, grew up with a love of music, and is said to have been able to sing a scale before her first birthday. Though her talent was praised her race kept her out of Baltimore's Catholic schools and Peabody Conservatory; after training at Baltimore's Morgan College she was admitted to Juilliard at 16, becoming the school's first black artist, and received the Margaret McGill Prize as best singer in the institution but faced limited career options as opera was "white only" at the time. Anne had heard that Gershwin was writing an opera with a black theme and called to ask for an interview. Initially offended when he asked her to sing a "Negro spiritual", she relented and the composer was to finish the renamed "Porgy and Bess" with her at his side much of the time, the role of Bess greatly expanded from the original novel and later Broadway play. Her performance in the October 1935 Boston world premiere was acclaimed though her father was said to have been displeased that she had showed-off her legs and that she had participated in a work highlighting negative racial stereotypes; she took Bess to New York and to Washington, DC, where she helped Todd Duncan break the National Theater's segregation policy, went on to appear on Broadway in 1937's "Pins and Needles" and the 1939 "Mamba's Daughters", reprised Bess in 1942, and played herself in the 1945 Gershwin biopic "Rhapsody in Blue". Anne had an extensive recital career, programming mainly pieces by Brahms, Schubert, and Mahler, and during a 1948 European tour married Olympic ski jumping medalist Thorleif Schjelderup, settled in Oslo, Norway, and took Norwegian citizenship. (The question of whether she also remained an American citizen is unclear). She continued her concerts and worked with Gian Carlo Menotti on "The Medium" and "The Telephone" but lung problems during the 1950s cut short her performing, though she was to be a respected teacher for many years while staging operas in Norway and France. Anne received the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to American Music in 1998, was made an honorary citizen of Baltimore in 1999, and in 2000 was given the Norway Council of Cultures Honorary Award. At her death from the effects of advanced age recordings she made with Duncan during the 1942 revival of "Porgy and Bess" remained available while her personal papers were archived at Tulane University's Amistad Research Center. Of her career, she once said: "If I had been born 20 years later, I might have sung at the Metropolitan Opera...of course, I would not have met Mr. Gershwin, and that would have been a shame".

Bio by: Bob Hufford


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Bob Hufford
  • Added: 17 Mar 2009
  • Find A Grave Memorial 34905462
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Anne Brown (9 Aug 1912–13 Mar 2009), Find A Grave Memorial no. 34905462, citing Cemetery of Our Saviour, Oslo, Oslo kommune, Oslo fylke, Norway ; Maintained by Find A Grave .