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Interviewing Marian Anderson and James De Preist

BROADCAST: 1966 | DURATION: 00:15:09

Synopsis

Interviewing Marian Anderson and James De Preist.

Transcript

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Studs Terkel [content removed, see catalog record] I know that, James DePreist, you've heard your aunt, Marian Anderson, sing this song and you've heard the recording many times. What are your thoughts as you hear her interpret it there?

James DePreist Well, the most amazing thing--I've told Aunt Marian this many times--is that I really hear two people. You know, I hear, I really hear a father and it's again the ability to project if, as in this case, there is a story, to really project characterization and this calls for an ability to make the voice act which is hard and to be able to do it I think is genius. And I was always moved by this and it still remains one of my favorites

Studs Terkel It becomes then more than just a song. It becomes a drama, doesn't it then, Miss Anderson? It becomes a drama as well.

Marian Anderson It does. Again, as we said before, you have to believe. You have to try to put yourself in the place as near as possible.

Studs Terkel You know, as you said that: put yourself in that man's place or that woman's place, [unintelligible] something James DePreist earlier about his atheist friend who heard you sing, "Well, that's a prayer". Isn't this almost the approach to all art, really? A certain act has a certain quality. Religion not with a capital R, you know, not with quotation marks but something quite personal.

Marian Anderson I believe that, too.

Studs Terkel Thinking of--if we could take it in a spiritual--if I may ask this: Someone has said--Oh, I know what leads up to this--I was thinking about asking you--you first heard, as a small girl in Philadelphia, you heard Roland Hayes sing, didn't you?

Marian Anderson Oh, yes.

Studs Terkel What were your thoughts? Can you go back now to memories?

Marian Anderson It's a long time ago, as a matter of fact, but our church in Philadelphia was a large one and the minister there was very anxious to have, to bring music to the church. And every year there was a gala concert and a gala concert meant that Roland Hayes was coming and at that time Roland Hayes' program consisted of a group of Italian classics, German lied, French art songs, English group, and then Negro spirituals. And they did--he did not always have an English group--he would end up with Negro spirituals and that was the only English on the program. And he came once and I don't know whether he did not know any spirituals at that time or not but there were a group of people who said, "Well, I think now we should have our Marian on the program because if she sings we'll know what she's singing about," and that was my claim to the, being asked to be on the program. But in any case we did sing with him at one time on the program and I know after that he gave me the name of a song and said When I come back next year we will do this together. And after he got away he sent me this song which is called "The Passage Bird's Farewell". And I must have worn out, I don't know, a couple of copies taking it to bed and put it under my pillow at night. And we did sing it when he came the next time.

Studs Terkel What were your thoughts on first hearing and seeing Roland Hayes? He was, indeed, perhaps the first--

Marian Anderson Yes. Wasn't he?

Studs Terkel Negro art singer--

Marian Anderson

Studs Terkel Yes. Negro art singer-- Yes. Wasn't he?

Marian Anderson After--well, it astonished me a great deal, you know, what he was doing. And after we'd heard him a few times one remembers definitely going to the church with paper and pencil and trying from his German to make a translation of what the song meant. And we wrote down as he sang things, you know, after a phrase or after the song to write down the picture that you got from the song. Now comparing later on we found out that the story was not exactly what he was singing about but we did get a picture. Because he was, and I understand he's still singing. A very fine artist.

Studs Terkel So this is an interesting point, isn't it, James DePreist? It doesn't matter, even though what Marian Anderson as a small girl heard this artist, Roland Hayes, sing, even though it wasn't literally what he sang, she got a vivid image that was rich to her.

James DePreist Yes. Music is more than the sum of its parts. And I think that this is the thing--this is one of the things, of course, about opera or about many, many forms of art where there is some kind of translation barrier that one still can come away, if the performance is convincing, with a fairly good picture of what's intended.

Studs Terkel I was thinking, as so many songs, both lieder, arias as well as spirituals, Miss Anderson has recorded, favors to hear one to sing. But since you mentioned Roland Hayes in your memory there's one that he sings that you sing beautifully. I think "He Didn't Say A Mumblin' Word".

Marian Anderson Yes, yes.

Studs Terkel "The Crucifixion Song."

Marian Anderson You know, there are some things that seem to belong to a perfect person and this seems to me to belong to Roland Hayes. We heard this almost every time that he came to Philadelphia. If it wasn't on the program it was asked for.

Studs Terkel Yeah, of course as--

Marian Anderson And he does these things with conviction. He believes. He lived in the South where he heard them firsthand and learned them firsthand and had some of the experiences that went along probably as closely as it could be associated with the situations under which these songs were born.

Studs Terkel As you say, the situations, he lived close to situations to which these songs were born, you think in terms of, perhaps, of a grandfather or, indeed, perhaps father. Slavery. There's someone who has said that when he hears a spiritual and it is the man in the crowd watching Christ being crucified it is not someone singing of 2000 years ago but it is this moment. He didn't say, "I trembled". "I tremble." "I tremble." Now. Not 2000 years ago. Isn't this, too, the art is of this moment, now?

Marian Anderson Because it says, yes, "Oh, Sometimes it causes me to tremble". Now if you're there, you tremble then. If you're here, you tremble now. "Sometimes it causes me to tremble". I didn't say it caused me to. It says it causes me to tremble.

Studs Terkel Thus we're speaking, aren't we, not just of an event 2000 years ago of the Son of God being crucified but a man--

Marian Anderson A man,

Studs Terkel yes. A man being crucified.

If we may hear it. [content removed, see catalog record] As many thoughts come to mind, I'm thinking, too, of the rehearsals. This has been, this conversation that's been taking place before the Grant Park weekend concerts and very thrilling indeed, I'm sure it is, with Marian Anderson the soloist and James DePreist conducting. Let's see, "Daphnis and Chloe"? And--

James DePreist Yes, the Dvorak Symphony Number Two, or Seven, depending on how you wish to count. And the Copland "Preamble for a Solemn Occasion."

Studs Terkel And Marian [Anderson?] will be narrating.

James DePreist Yes. This was originally commissioned by the National Broadcasting Company, I think, and it was first performed in 1949 with Leonard Bernstein and Laurence Olivier. And a group of spirituals and "Ave Maria".

Studs Terkel Perhaps, what is a way to say goodbye for now? There are many thoughts, many questions that come up. Oh, I know one, perhaps, raw talent--Talent: young talent, raw talent. There's young talent but not raw, that of your nephew, James DePreist, but there's raw talent that you've encountered, I'm sure, Miss Anderson, here since your farewell concert, a formal farewell concert at Constitution Hall. You've been involved with the UN with young people, with drop outs, with homeless children but I'm sure with young talent.

Marian Anderson You know, we do think that there are some people around who have not yet decided what they want to do with their lives. These are not young people. These are people who have seen life and now at a particular stage they're not sure any more. Some of them have raised families and the children have gone out. The mother and father are rattling around in a house that's too big for them and they haven't quite decided. And since the wife would probably have more time on her hands we would be very delighted if some of these people would, in thinking what they would like to become interested in, would attach themselves to some either organization or some child or children whom they, to whom they could be of a great deal of help. And the raw talent would in that way be able to see some of the things happen for them which would be possible with just the merest, almost the merest amount of help or interest from somebody because some children need not much more than a nudge to let them know that somebody is interested and they can go from that point on to quite a distance in what they wish to accomplish.

Studs Terkel There's something you had said last time--do you want to say something on this?

James DePreist Well, I'll say it later. Well, you were talking about things that are done and talent and Aunt Marian won't say this and it's known by some people but perhaps not by all, I think it's very important, there are a lot of people around today and I guess there always have been who pay lip service to giving assistance to young people. But with the Bok award that my aunt won some years ago was set up and with continuing funds from my aunt a scholarship fund which bears her name and scholarships are awarded for study in voice every year. And some of the people who have furthered their study--begun their careers--some of these people are really very, very famous now. And I remember it was a proud moment for me while I was Assistant Conductor of the Philharmonic just this past season Aunt Marian came to hear a performance of "The Creation" of Haydn. And one of the people she passed in the hall was Judith Raskin and Miss Raskin said to my aunt that if it had not been for her and for the scholarship fund that her being there would not be possible. It's something like this that has great meaning plus the fact that for many Negro artists seeing someone like my aunt on the stage is an incentive and they have a frame of reference and they say, "I want to do that. And I know I can." And it is impossible to gauge the effect of having a career and living a life in dignity. It's impossible to gauge the effect of this on countless young people. And I think that, I think it's great.

Studs Terkel Of course, I'm thinking of a point, James DePreist's point, and that of Marian Anderson--the potentialities that are there, too, if only the door were opened. We don't know how many Shuberts there might be or James DePreists. Others who are, you know, around, or young Toscaninis or Marian Andersons. Well, you know, it's unlimited, isn't it? This is to be discovered and that the horror is what may not be. Isn't that so? The idea they may have to make--one must make a livelihood some way or other?

Marian Anderson Right. It is. It is the horror that one doesn't know what is left untouched and that's why we so hope that some people who have not quite decided what they want to do will look into this aspect of assistance.

Studs Terkel Other thoughts you have, Marian Anderson? As the U.S. delegate to UN, travel--the [move?] from Philadelphia--we think of the CBS program that Murrow produced with you, your story and your travels in various countries of the world. Is there a thought that comes to mind over and above all others? Or any one specifically you and we, I should say, and the rest of the world?

Marian Anderson Not particularly. Because as life has unfolded, as a career has gone forward, many a thing, one from another has happened in such order as to make it a little bit impossible to place one much above--

Studs Terkel Such order and disorder.

Marian Anderson [chuckling] [unintelligible]--

Studs Terkel But you found, I suppose, you found artists in the various lands where you were--

Marian Anderson Oh, yes. Yes.

Studs Terkel Different artists, different ones, the children in Thailand you were talking about. Jim, any thoughts that you have before we hear one last--we were going to ask you to choose your favorite of anything, either spiritual or lied that you like to hear your aunt sing, any other thoughts you have as far as yourself and conducting?

James DePreist Well, I know that many years ago it would not be a conceivable thing for there to be a young Negro conductor. To have been with the Philharmonic, to have conducted Minneapolis and these other orchestras. And I think that if my career can be of any value to others who will follow, it is as a symbol of the fact that it is possible. And I think that if more people are aware of the fact that it is possible then more will take the initial step to do the same kinds of things. As far as a favorite I must say that "Ave Maria" only sounds to me beautiful when it's sung by my aunt.

Studs Terkel Perhaps we say goodbye right now and listen to Marian Anderson sing "Ave Maria". Thank you very much, James DePreist. Naturally we look forward--people attending concerts, hearing music--to the hearing more of James DePreist conducting various symphonies. And perhaps--I hadn't asked you about composition--is that part of your thoughts, too, in life?

James DePreist Well, earlier I had written three ballets but conducting is a full-time job so I'm concentrating on that.

Studs Terkel James DePreist, conductor, and listening to more of Marian Anderson, on recordings and her thoughts, of course, and from her various other artists who will evolve and emerge from her example. Thank you very much, indeed, Marian Anderson.

Marian Anderson Been a pleasure.

Studs Terkel James DePreist and "Ave Maria." [content removed,