An African-American opera star recalls her distinguished career.
Hendricks grew up in the segregated South of the 1950s and ’60s singing in church and school choirs with no particular desire to make a career in music, which she deemed “extracurricular.” Instead, she studied math and science until a chance invitation to compete in auditions for the Metropolitan Opera permanently changed her life. She did not win, but the experience threw open doors to possibilities that eventually landed her a spot at Julliard. There, she worked with mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel, who became her mentor and role model, and received instruction from the legendary Maria Callas. Hendricks began her extraordinary career as a performer and recording artist soon after leaving Julliard in 1974. Within three years of graduation, she had sung with every major orchestra and conductor in the United States and at major festivals and opera houses all over Europe, which became her permanent home in 1977. Twenty years into a career that included work on film versions of operas like Puccini’s La bohème, Hendricks added to her vocal repertoire by learning how to sing jazz songs, which she debuted at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1994. Sensitive to human rights issues from an early age, Hendricks became involved with the United Nations and used her musical talents to call attention to social and political conflicts around the world, including the Bosnian war. By the late 1990s, she also created her own award-winning humanitarian organization dedicated to fostering peace and reconciliation. Hendricks’ accomplishments and sincerity are genuinely laudable. However, her painstaking efforts to record every small detail of her career and life and point out the relationship those details have to a greater historical process are too excessive to make the narrative genuinely enjoyable.