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Grace Bumbry, Negro Mezzo-Soprano, Performs at White House

Feb. 20, 1962 — Grace Bumbry, mezzo-soprano, sang at the White House tonight after a state dinner at which she scarcely ate a bite. The 25-year-old opera star had wanted to skip the dinner entirely and concentrate on her after-dinner performance for President and Mrs. Kennedy and their guests. “My business is singing,” she told friends earlier. “If I go to dinner, I’ll eat and not sing very well.” Miss Bumbry finally took the advice of her assistant manager, Michael Sweeley. He advised her to “go to the dinner and not eat.” “You can’t miss this,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance.” It was Miss Bumbry’s first singing engagement in her native country since she achieved stardom in European opera houses. Miss Bumbry, a Negro, is a native of St. Louis. The state dinner was held in honor of Vice President Johnson, Speaker John W. McCormack and Chief Justice Earl Warren. For one guest in particular it was a night for celebration. He was James E. Webb, administrator of NASA, which is in charge of the Mercury program that put Lieut. Col. Glenn into orbit earlier in the day. Miss Bumbry’s appearance was, in effect, a command performance. Mrs. Kennedy had heard friends in Europe praise Miss Bumbry’s singing in Paris and elsewhere. The First Lady asked that Miss Bumbry entertain at the White House. Miss Bumbry had to change her schedule of engagements in France to appear at the White House. She sang with the Lamoureux Orchestra in Paris on Sunday, flew to Washington last night and was scheduled to leave a few hours after the state dinner to fly back to France. At the White House, she performed works of Gluck, Benedetto Marcello, Richard Strauss, Aaron Copland, and others. Her encore was “O Don fatale” from Verdi’s “Don Carlo.”

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