Carnegie Hall joins so many others around the world in celebrating the remarkable life of Dr. Maya Angelou, who passed away earlier this week.
Two weeks after her historic appearance reading her poetry at President Clinton’s inauguration, Dr. Angelou made her Carnegie Hall debut on February 2, 1993, joining co-host Harry Belafonte, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and several other great artists to mark the 75th birthday of another legendary woman: Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, who communicated such great joy through her singing, was too frail to make the trip to Carnegie Hall from her home in California, but she no doubt would have agreed with Dr. Angelou’s words from her 2009 book of essays, Letter to My Daughter: “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
At her concert on March 22, 2000, soprano Jessye Norman gave the world premiere of Judith Weir’s woman.life.song, commissioned by Carnegie Hall and featuring texts by Dr. Angelou, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, and Toni Morrison. Although the first half of that performance was to have featured songs by Ravel and Schoenberg, during rehearsals Ms. Norman realized that woman.life.song should be the main focus of the concert, so she instead asked Dr. Angelou and the others to read from their commissioned texts for Weir’s work.
Dr. Angelou returned in March 2009 to take part in a panel discussion in Zankel Hall, exploring the history of African American performing arts and its role in social and political change, part of HONOR! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy, a citywide festival curated by Ms. Norman.
At her fourth and final Carnegie Hall appearance in November 2009, Dr. Angelou was honored by Glamour for her great lifetime achievements as a writer, artist, educator, and activist as one of the magazine's 11 Women of the Year. An extraordinary person, she will always hold a special place in Carnegie Hall’s history.
Listen to an excerpt from the March 2009 panel discussion, part of Carnegie Hall’s HONOR! festival: