The short video below featuring world-famous classical singer Barbara Hendricks -- the longest-serving Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – tugged at my heart strings in more ways than one. You see, Ms. Hendricks is not only a renowned interpreter of opera, concert music, art songs and jazz. She is a black woman and a kind of refugee herself.
I harkened back to my years managing opera singers -- and how I as a Francophile first became enchanted with her Paris-based performances and her story. But I do not recall ever hearing Barbara Hendricks sing in person. For that we sadly have to depend mostly on iTunes.
Ms. Hendricks was born in Stephens, Arkansas. After earning a degree in Math and Chemistry at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, she got her musical training/degree at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. But like many notable African-American singers before her, she has essentially made her career and life in Europe, where she has lived since 1977. She is now a citizen of Sweden, where the iconic Marion Anderson had her first great success.
In her UNHCR role, Barbara Hendricks has met with refugees and policy-makers in Africa, Asia and Europe for 25 years -- in addition to headlining concerts throughout the world to draw attention to the plight of refugees (especially women) and the moral imperative to protect their human rights. In 1998 she founded the Barbara Hendricks Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation, which seeks to facilitate reconciliation where conflicts have already occurred. And in 2002, Ms. Hendricks was named Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador - the only UNHCR celebrity ambassador to hold this title.
This video by DiplomaticallyIncorrect.org was filmed in Ethiopia where she visited camps of Somali refugees. Enjoy a few bars of “Oh, Freedom” to remember that humanity is blessed daily when people like Barbara Hendricks use their celebrity for good: