WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 /PRNewswire/ — Last evening, AT&T* chairman and CEO, Randall Stephenson, hosted a reception at the National Archives to meet and pay tribute to Texas-born opera star and civil rights pioneer Barbara Smith Conrad, and view a documentary about her inspiring journey and enduring influence. Co-hosted by Debra L. Lee, Chairman and CEO of BET Networks, the audience enjoyed the exclusive Washington premiere of “When I Rise,” a full-length documentary that tells the story of a gifted African American music student at the University of Texas who was thrust into a civil rights storm that changed her life, and the lives of countless others, forever.
At the university in 1959, Ms. Conrad was cast in an opera to co-star with a white male classmate, fueling a racist backlash from members of the Texas legislature. When Ms. Conrad was expelled from the cast, the incident escalated and she persevered as an early pioneer in the movement to create a more open and diverse university community. The small-town girl, whose voice and spirit stem from her roots in East Texas, emerged as an internationally celebrated mezzo-soprano.
“Ms. Conrad is an incredible woman who has inspired us by her talents, courage and fortitude, and AT&T is honored to have a role in helping as many Americans as possible learn about her remarkable life,” Stephenson said.
“This film tells the story of not only a woman with an extraordinary voice but also an inspirational journey, and BET is committed to shining a light on the contributions of African Americans like Ms. Conrad’s and making sure her story be heard by millions more for generations to come,” said Ms. Lee.
Emmy-winning actor and Hollywood star Jeffrey Wright served as master of ceremonies for the event, and U.S. Representatives James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Eddie Bernice Johnson from Texas paid tribute to Ms. Conrad as well. Guests included members of the Obama Administration, members of Congress, business and civic leaders.
‘When I Rise’ was produced by The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin and directed by Austin filmmaker Mat Hames. Following last night’s screening, Don Carleton, Ph.D., executive director of The Dolph Briscoe Center, addressed the audience and introduced Ms. Conrad, who shared inspirational remarks.
The film was an official selection and received critical acclaim at the internationally recognized 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this year in Austin. In addition to well-received screenings at multiple film festivals, ‘When I Rise’ will air on Independent Lens on PBS in February 2011, and plans are being made for wider distribution.
For more information about the film and to keep track of opportunities to see it, please visit www.whenirisefilm.com.
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About BET Networks
BET Networks, a division of Viacom Inc. (NYSE: VIA, VIA.B), is the nation’s leading provider of quality entertainment, music, news and public affairs television programming for the African-American audience. The primary BET channel reaches more than 98 million households and can be seen in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and sub-Saharan Africa. BET is the dominant African-American consumer brand with a diverse group of businesses extensions: BET.com, a leading Internet destination for Black entertainment, music, culture, and news; BET Digital Networks – BET J, BET Gospel and BET Hip-Hop, attractive alternatives for cutting-edge entertainment tastes; BET Home Entertainment, a collection of BET-branded offerings for the home environment including DVDs and video-on-demand; BET Mobile, which provides ringtones, games and video content for wireless devices; and BET International, which operates BET in the United Kingdom and oversees the extension of BET network programming for global distribution.
About The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
Through stewardship, scholarship, and outreach, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History increases knowledge and fosters exploration of our nation’s past. As a leading history research center, we collect, preserve, and make available documentary and material culture evidence encompassing key themes in Texas and U.S. history. Researchers, students, and the public mine our collections for a wide range of academic, professional, and personal uses. Our collections also inspire our own projects, including books, exhibits, programs, films, and educational materials. The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History is an organized research unit and public service component of The University of Texas at Austin. http://www.cah.utexas.edu/.
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