By Elizabeth Berra
Creator: Brown, Anne Wiggins (1912-2009)
Extent: 4.17 Linear Feet
Arrangement: Collection arranged by format and then chronologically.
Date Acquired: 11/01/1991. More info below under Accruals.
The papers of Anne Wiggins Brown document her career as a singer, producer and stage director which spanned five decades. Brown was the original "Bess" in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. The papers include personal and professional correspondence, photographs, financial records, musical scores, playbills, posters and other collected publications. A large majority of the collection is newspaper clippings.
The correspondence dates from 1935 until 1998. The earliest correspondence is predominately fan mail relating to Brown's performance in Porgy and Bess and other various concerts. Highlights included personal letters between Brown and Ira Gershwin. Although some personal correspondence is included in the collection, specifically between Brown and her third spouse Thorleif Schelderup, the majority is business correspondence pertaining to Brown's concert engagements. Biographical data is included in the collection through newspaper clippings. The clippings document Brown's professional highlights, her marriage to Schelderup, the birth of her daughter Vaar, her relationship with eldest daughter Paula, and her life living in Norway.
Brown's business dealings are documented through engagement contracts, financial statements, press releases and legal documents. Among the items included in legal documents are Brown's passport and Actors' Equity Card. Programs, playbills, reviews and criticisms document Brown's performance career. Programs and playbills include the original Porgy and Bess playbill from 1935 and various performance programs spanning from 1935 to 1969. Reviews and criticisms highlight Brown's performances both foreign and domestic from 1948 to 1953.
Many documents specifically pertain to Porgy and Bess. The original 1935 production and subsequent revival productions are documented through photographs, newspaper clippings, playbills, posters and personal writings. Among the personal writings is a twenty-page, hand written account by Brown of her experience with Porgy and Bess. Additionally, the collection includes the 1998 Library of Congress publication "The Gershwins And Their World" highlighting Porgy and Bess among Gershwin's other works. Documents from Brown's acceptance of the Peabody Award in 1998 include a transcript and audiocassette of her acceptance speech, correspondence, programs and newspaper clippings. Also of note is a typescript of scene outlines for "Ouanga: The Story of a Negro Opera" by John F. Matheus and Clarence Cameron White, which is set in 1804 during the Haitian Revolution.
Audiocassettes include original cast recordings of Porgy and Bess and St. Louis Woman, Brown's 1995 National Public Radio interview entitled "Two Divas Across The Atlantic" and Brown's 1998 Peabody Award acceptance speech. A videocassette recording of the Norwegian documentary "Anne Brown: The Golden Voice" (Benedikte Minos Film, 2002) is also included. Personal scrapbooks date from 1935 to 1947 and highlight Brown's domestic and foreign performance career through newspaper clippings, programs and photographs. Posters from Brown's foreign performances spanning from 1942 to 1969 are also included.
African American soprano Anne Wiggins Brown was best known for creating the role of "Bess" in the original Broadway production of George Gershwin's folk opera Porgy and Bess in 1935. In addition to her Broadway career, Brown was an accomplished radio and concert singer, and teacher. Brown's career spanned five decades, during which she toured the United States, Europe, and the world. During her late thirties, Brown attained Norwegian citizenship and moved to Oslo, Norway, where she resided until her death in 2009.
Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Brown was born on August 9, 1912, to Dr. Harry F. Brown and Mamie Wiggins. One of four girls, Brown grew up surrounded by music, frequently listening to the recordings of Caruso, Melba, and Schumann-Hank. Convinced of her daughter's talent, Wiggins encouraged Brown to audition for the Peabody Conservatory. After garnering positive feedback for her audition, Brown was ultimately denied admission because of her race.
In 1928, at the age of sixteen, Brown was accepted into the prestigious Institute of Musical Art at the Julliard School in New York City. While at Julliard, Brown studied opera and vocal technique under Lucia Dunham. Although still faced with racial stricture, Brown felt she was able to escape some of the South's strict racial codes while living in New York City. Brown received her diploma in voice in 1932 and her artist's diploma in 1934.
Prior to her graduation from Julliard, Brown requested an audition for Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Brown's initial audition was so successful she was immediately introduced to members of the production team, including Gershwin's brother Ira, director Rouben Mamoulian, and librettist Dubose Heyward, and was subsequently offered the role of "Bess." Porgy and Bess opened on September 30, 1935, at the Colonial Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts and moved to the Alvin Theatre on Broadway on October 10, 1935. Brown played "Bess" for all one hundred and twenty four performances of the Broadway run.
Brown maintained a close working relationship with Gershwin, appearing in his London production of the musical Blackbirds and his 1945 film Rhapsody in Blue. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Brown performed nationally and internationally, predominately in Europe. Brown frequently stated that she left the United States because of persistent racial prejudice. After World War II, Brown and Todd Duncan, the original "Porgy" in Porgy and Bess, reprised their roles at the Royal Opera in Copenhagen.
In 1948, Brown married Norwegian ski jump champion Thorleif Schjelderup and established permanent residence in Norway. Schelderup was Brown's third marriage. In 1951 Schelderup and Brown had a daughter named Vaar. Brown also had a daughter named Paula from her second marriage to Dr. Jacob Petit. Although Schjelderup and Brown later divorced, Brown and her daughters remained in Norway.
In the 1960s, Brown began her teaching career at the National Theatre School in Norway. During her time at the school, Brown directed a production of Porgy and Bess in France. The production was comprised of African American principles and a white French chorus. Brown continued coaching privately in Norway until the 1990s.
In 1998, the Peabody Conservatory, which had denied Brown admission seventy years earlier, awarded her the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America. Among her other awards are Honorary Citizen of New Orleans (1991), Honorary Citizen of Baltimore (1999), and the Norway Council of Cultures Honorary Award (2000). Brown died on March 13, 2009, at the age of ninety six in Oslo, Norway.
Access Restrictions: This collection is open for research.
Use Restrictions: Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.
Physical Access Note: Preservation copies of news clippings are available.
Acquisition Source: Anne Wiggins Brown
Acquisition Method: Gift
Appraisal Information: Collection documents career of singer and actress Anne Wiggins Brown.
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Preferred Citation: Anne Wiggins Brown papers, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
Processing Information: Collection processed by Elizabeth Berra, January-March 2010.