Andrew Frierson, 94, whose bass-baritone reverberated from the stages of theaters and music halls around the world as the first generation of black opera singers made their voices heard, died on Dec. 6 in Oberlin, Ohio.
Frierson made his New York debut at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1948 while still a student and went on to perform for six seasons with the New York City Opera. He also sang at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the occasion of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Frierson taught at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., in the early 1950s; directed the Henry Street Settlement Music School in Manhattan in the ’60s, and was a professor of voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio in the ’70s.
Andrew Bennie Frierson was born on March 29, 1924, in Columbia, Tenn., the youngest of seven children. The family moved to Louisville, Ky., nine months later.
His daughter Andrea said he started playing the piano on his own when he was 3 and took his first lessons when he was 8. He enrolled in Fisk University in Nashville, as a music major, but before he graduated he was drafted into the Army and served in the South Pacific during World War II.
When he returned, he studied with a voice teacher who encouraged him to apply to the Juilliard School in New York, where he befriended two women: future opera star Leontyne Price and a soprano who would become known professionally as Billie Lynn Daniel, and whom he would marry in 1953. Billie Daniel Frierson died in 2002.
After graduating from Juilliard with a degree in vocal performance, Frierson earned a master’s from the Manhattan School of Music.
Reviewing Frierson’s 1949 debut, Ross Parmenter of the New York Times wrote that Frierson, who was still at Juilliard at the time, “gives promise of being a fine concert artist,” adding, “He already has the essential attributes — a beautiful voice, good technique, musicianship, sympathy and a fine presence.”
Frierson made his professional debut with the New York City Opera in 1958 as Cal in Marc Blitzstein’s “Regina.” Among his other parts with that company and others were Porgy in “Porgy and Bess,” Henry Davis in “Street Scene,” the King of Egypt in “Aida,” and Caronte in Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” under the baton of Leopold Stokowski. He also performed with Harry Belafonte as a member of the Belafonte Folk Singers. In 1975, he and his wife performed in a joint recital at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center.
In the early 1980s, Frierson and a colleague, James Kennon-Wilson, founded Independent Black Opera Singers Inc., to encourage the careers of black male performers through education, competitions and by calling attention to the scarcity of blacks cast in major roles.
“There has not been a ‘real’ black male opera superstar because of racist and sexist attitudes in America,” he was quoted as saying in “Dialogues on Opera and the African-American Experience” (1997), by Wallace McClain Cheatham.
In 2000, Frierson received a “Lift Every Voice” Legacy Award from the National Opera Association, which promotes racial and ethnic diversity in the profession.
John J. Gibbons, 94, a lawyer who persuaded authorities in Newark, N.J., to provide access to the courts for people detained during riots in 1967 and nearly 40 years later argued successfully before the Supreme Court that foreign prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba had legal rights too, died Dec. 9 in Maplewood, N.J. Gibbons also spent 20 years as a judge on the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia; he was its chief judge for three years.
The Guantánamo detainees — 16 were involved in two consolidated cases — contended they had been denied access to lawyers and federal courts in violation of their due process rights. Lawyers representing the administration of President George W. Bush responded that the courts had no jurisdiction over the base because the detainees were not U.S. citizens and not on U.S. soil.
The soft-spoken Gibbons argued — partly by citing his naval service at Guantánamo during World War II — that the U.S. held sovereignty over the base through a perpetual lease with Cuba.
“We have exclusive jurisdiction over civil law in Guantánamo and have had for a century,” Gibbons said, suggesting it was “artificial” for the government to assert that the “executive branch can create a no-law zone where it is not accountable to any judiciary, anywhere.”
The court ruled 6-3 for the detainees.
John Joseph Gibbons was born on Dec. 8, 1924, in Newark.
New York Times