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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewer: Owen Wingate
Interviewee: Elizabeth Graham
April 9, 1990
W: This is Owen Wingate, and I am interviewing Dr. Elizabeth P. Graham. She is
professor of music here in the Department of Music in the College of Fine Arts,
University of Florida. Today's date is April 9, 1990. We are going to begin by
getting some biographical information, basic background information, and letting Dr.
Graham talk to us.
G: I was born April 3. I am not going to tell you what year, but it was a while back. My
parents were James and Lucille Pealer. I was born in Cherokee, South Carolina,
which branches off into the foothills and has a lot of Indian influence. I am from
kind of a racially mixed background. I have two brothers. I grew up in Shelby,
W: Where is Shelby? What is it near?
G: Shelby is about thirty-eight miles southwest of Charlotte. Early career influences? I
would have to say that my early choir directors in elementary school and high
school [were influential]. Music was something I did for fun. I never thought I would
end up in music; it just sort of happened that way. I grew up in rural North Carolina
on a farm and went to basically all-black schools until later on in high school. I
went from there to the North Carolina School of the Arts, which was just the reverse
of that. That school, as you know, is a state-supported, conservatory-like school
for music, drama and dance. There were five blacks on campus at the time I first
W: Could you tell us in what year that would be?
G: The school started in 1965, and I was one of the first students there.
W: Were either your mom or dad musically inclined?
G: My father sang. He sang gospel music--he had a quartet of his own--and my
grandparents sang in church. But none of them did it for a living. They were all
good singers, but they were very surprised when they learned that I wanted to do
this for a living. That did not go very well.
W: Oh, I bet it did not. What was your first singing experience that you can remember?
G: I remember being about four or five and singing solos in church.
W: In church?
G: That is where I started, like most people, I guess. I was given encouragement there
because I was always a person who liked to be on stage. That has not changed.
[laughter] During the time I was at School of the Arts I had already started doing
professional concerts, and I had gone to Europe twice. Then I got married during
my senior year at School of the Arts and decided that I was not going to do music,
so I had my son. Then I started taking voice lessons again and decided that I
should go back into music, so I went to Florida State [University] and got my
master's and doctorate. During the time I was at Florida State, I got into the
company of Houston Grand Opera and started my operatic career.
W: Back up just a little bit. What company did you travel with to Europe?
G: Houston Grand Opera.
W: With Houston Grand Opera. You were living where?
G: At that time, I was living between North Carolina and Tallahassee. By that time the
marriage had basically ended, so I basically lived three years on the road with
Thadden. We went to Broadway, all over Europe, and basically lived out of a
suitcase for three years.
Then I was almost forced to come back because my seven years were running out
for my doctorate, and I wanted to complete that. I went back, and the job over here
became available. I learned about it through Woody [Elwood J.] Keister [professor
of music, University of Florida], whose daughter, Jean Keister, was at Florida State
with me. I had just won the Palm Beach Opera Competition, which is the biggest
competition in Florida for opera singers. I came over here and did the interview,
and I was invited back for a second interview. I was offered the job and came here
the fall of 1979.
W: Who did you study with at Florida State?
G: I studied with Yvonne Chanello and Eugene Talischmidt.
W: What did you think of the time that you spent there?
G: I loved my time there.
W: Did you find that you grew more there as an artist or on the road?
G: Well, it is difficult to say because I went to Florida State first. I was a mezzo all of
my undergraduate years and made the switch with my private teacher at home,
Fran Shafter, to soprano repertoire. So I came into Florida State as a soprano,
and the first year that I was there--in fact, I had only been there a month--I was cast
in my first soprano role, Leonora in [Giuseppe Verdi's] II Trovatore. So that was big
learning experience for me. It was just like jumping out of the frying pan into the
My experience there was very positive, because I received a lot of encouragement
from all of the voice faculty and the administration and was always, I guess, in a
very coveted position because I got the leading roles. I was encouraged to expand
and grow as a singer. Then the experience with Houston just further enhanced
W: When did you sing with the Houston company? I guess it was between Florida
State and here.
G: I joined them in Philadelphia in the fall of 1976, when they were just cranking up
their revival of [Geoge Gershwin's] Porav and Bess. We toured all the major cities
in the United States--Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, all
of the major centers. Then we went to Broadway, and we were on Broadway, I
guess, four to six months. Then we went to Canada and then back here. I went
back to Florida State for about three months and completed another quarter there.
Then we went to Miami and then Europe. We were in Europe for the better part of
W: Singing Porav and Bess?
G: Yes. We won a Tony on Broadway for that. While I was doing that, I would leave
periodically to do roles with other opera companies. It just sort of was a spin-off
from that. I really got into the operatic side of my career.
W: What were some of the roles?
G: I did [Giacomo Puccini's] Madama Butterfly with Alabama, I did View with Charlotte,
and I did the high priestess in [Verdi's] Aida with the Palm Beach Opera. Different
regional companies started noticing me after that, and that is the way it came on.
As you know, I teach voice here and the opera workshop, when we had it.
W: Tell me about that.
G: Well, when I came here, two of my duties were to develop some kind of relationship
between theater and music and to start an opera workshop program. The first thing
I did was to meet the guy who was in charge of musical theater at that time. They
have gone through a number of them since him. He and I got together, and I
helped him in his musical, Carnival. We developed a rapport from there, and he
would come over and help direct the scenes for the students over here. After Dr. [E.
James] Hooks [professor of speech] saw that we could work together, he and Dr.
[Budd] Udell [professor of music] decided that it was time to jump right in and try to
do an opera, and we did.
W: Dr. Udell was chairman [of the department of music] at this time?
G: Yes. So we started out trying to do one major opera production a year. That
worked for a long while. But it seems that later on down the line people thought
opera was too expensive. Theater students were given 60 percent of the roles and
used them as their theses roles. I think it is the most intense training that you can
have in a short period of time. We worked on the opera vocally and musically and
every other way, so when the final product came out it was a good product. But
they decided it was too expensive. When we got a different chairperson in both
areas, the opera just went by the wayside. My duties now are mainly concentrated
in teaching voice, which is fine with me.
W: How many students do you have, on average?
G: Fifteen to seventeen students.
W: A full studio. You are not doing the opera workshop now, but you have been
involved with the Florida Arts Celebration. Tell us about that. How did that start?
G: Well, I got involved with Florida Arts Celebration because Phyllis Blyweis [director,
Florida Arts Celebration] and Paul Newman [director, University Performing Arts
Series] had been bringing productions in here, and they heard me sing in the
concert version that we did of [Pietro Mascagni's] Cavalleria Rusticana. They
decided that we could start doing opera. So they called me, and we had some
meetings, and they had invited me to be on the board. Then I went away to
Australia, and when I came back, we talked about the idea. Our first production was
Porgy and Bess. I had just gotten back from Australia and was able to pull in a lot of
my friends from that company. Those people along with people in the community
were able to do that. Then, of course, we did Butterfly, in which you and a lot of
other people here and in the community were involved.
We hope to continue that once we are in the Performing Arts Center [on SW 34th
Street] where we will have a real orchestra pit. You know how difficult it is to do an
opera in University Auditorium where there is no curtain, no fly, no anything? But
somehow we managed to do those two operas, and we received a really wonderful
Opera is an expensive endeavor, and we have to regroup and decide how we are
going to do this. But I think Gainesville is ready for that kind of thing.
W: Do you see its being totally funded through Florida Arts Celebration, or a joint effort
with the University of Florida?
G: Well, so far it has been just Florida Arts Celebration. You want to avoid a conflict of
interest because we do have the theater department here. Ideally what should
happen, in my opinion, is that the three should work together. The theater
department has a scene shop where we could build sets and give people that
experience, the music department has the musicians and we would have that
experience, and then the community should get involved.
We have been very lucky with Florida Arts Celebration in that the [Gainesville]
Homebuilders [Association, Inc.] and everybody else want to get involved. I think it
is a wonderful way to get the community excited about what we are about, and it
has been. It has worked beautifully. But I really feel the University has missed
some of that excitement, some of that involvement. We have isolated ourselves
over here and we are missing the boat. In my opinion, it would be an ideal situation
to involve all three. I think it would make for better community/University relations
and would also provide learning experiences that our students would not otherwise
have. Any kind of outreach that we can do in that area I think only enhances the
W: Do you see that happening in the foreseeable future?
G: I think it will. I think it almost has to if we are going to produce opera in this town.
That is a major undertaking, especially for a town this size with a music
department-- instead of a music school--and the theater department. We have
departments, so it is not like Florida State where they have a full-time opera director
and do three productions a year plus scenes and all that. But I think we have to
stop thinking of ourselves as "the other school" and make the most of our resources
that we have.
W: Pool our resources.
G: Yes, pool our resources and get the best product instead of having fifty thousand
things happening and none of them being of the artistic merit that we want them to
be. I am looking at it not only as an educator but as an artist, and I think therein lies
the difference. When you are an artist and go out into the real world and perform
and then come back and teach aspiring performers, you know full well what is going
on out there. So when you bring these ideas back, it can be frustrating because you
see that we are pigeon-holing ourselves into something when we should be
branching out and trying to give people real experiences that they can use out there.
One of the things that happens when you get out there in the real world is people
start looking at your resume, and if you have nothing on that resume that even
remotely resembles that you have ever done an operatic role, than nobody wants to
take a chance. They feel like you should have had some experiences singing with
an orchestra and doing a real role before you become a professional. There have to
be some steps in the middle before you get to the top.
W: So you see performance as the best teacher.
G: Yes, I am afraid I do. Yes, because we can talk about music all day long, but if we
never do it, what difference does it make? You can just take a course in the
philosophy of music and talk about styles, but if you never really have the
opportunity to make music, to be involved in the production of music, then it never
really is a part of you. I do not see how one could ever hope to bring that
experience alive for someone in the studio if you are not involved in it. That is just
my personal opinion; that is how I feel about it.
[Students who participate] in the productions and the opera workshops that we
have done will go out of here with definite ideas of what they want to see on stage,
and if they ever have to try to do a musical or try to stage something, they at least
know the language and some of the things not to do in trying to produce a musical
or even a play or anything. You have to know something about movement.
W: And do you not also think that with the new Performing Arts Center (or whatever it is
going to be called), like you were saying, the effort between the theater department,
Florida Arts [Celebration], and music department is going to broaden to these other
students that are not music students but theater people? They get some of that
here in the small Constans Theater, but in the large Performing Arts Center [they will
get even more].
G: Yes, you are right. The performance halls of today are huge, mainly because you
need that kind of seating to recoup your expenses and to make a profit. It is
wonderful that we have intimate theater in the Constans, but I think at some point
they are going to want to use this facility because it is a more realistic performing
hall. We were lucky that at FSU we had the Ruby Diamond Auditorium, which is
more like a real-live theater. Moving from that experience and having sung with an
orchestra and all of that, when I got through the professional stage, it was nothing.
It was the same kind of thing. The halls were bigger, but not vastly so. And at least
I knew how to move and could move into a role without somebody having to hold my
hand every step of the way. That is what we are supposed to be giving students:
the tools so they can go out right into the professional world and not have to step
back and regroup.
W: And then you came to [the University of Florida's] Memorial Auditorium.
G: Yes, [it is] cavernous. [laughter]
W: If you can work there, you can work anywhere.
G: That is the truth, because the sound over there is just fighting that hall. The people
who came to see Butterfly and Porgy and Bess were so excited and so positive
about it, even with all that we had working against us. That lets us know that the
climate is right for this kind of thing. This year, everybody feels a void because we
do not have that spring slot for opera.
W: "What are you doing this year?"
G: That is right. We almost had to give in and do a [Puccini's La] Boheme, but we
decided that if there is that much interest, we will just wait and let people see how
much they miss it. Then when we call for those donations, they will be more inclined
to do it.
W: So is that what is up next, possibly?
G: Possibly. We have talked about Boheme, we have talked about [Verdi's] Tosca, we
have talked about [Verdi's] La Traviata, so we just have to see. But my whole thing
about this is getting as many students and as many townspeople involved as
possible, because the only way we can keep the arts alive is to give people real
professional experiences. I mean, Dawn Ovan, who is a wonderful director from
New York, and Steven Simeon, who came here from California, were people who
were doing this for a living, and we were so lucky to have them here and to work
with us. People got to understand what a real performance situation would be like,
and I think the people in Gainesville rallied pretty well.
W: I know. The cast appreciate their flexibility and their willingness to work with what
we had in the auditorium but also with the cast and with the students. The students
G: So I think one of my roles here in this community and in this school, as I see it, is to
try to create as many performance opportunities for the students--not just my
students but for students in general and across the board--in the University and in
the community, and to try to let the community know that we have people over here
who want to reach out and involve the community in what goes on here, that we are
not elitists who feel we have an invisible barrier between us. We need these people,
and they need us. It is the same way with any university. We need theater and
theater needs us, and somehow we have to learn to coexist, and not just coexist but
to communicate and give our students the best all-around education that we
possibly can to equip them to go out and teach other people and to have careers of
W: You are involved in the process of interviewing for the new dean for the College of
Fine Arts. Is this something you are going to present to him or her as a possibility
that you would like to see for the future?
G: Definitely. One of the things I am asking each one of them is how do you feel about
opera? How do you feel about our role in the new Performing Arts Center, and
what would you do as the dean of the College of Fine Arts to ensure that we have a
place with them, that we have an alliance with them? What can you do to enhance
us in the community and in the state? What would you do to highlight the
professors and artists that you have within the college? A lot of people do not even
know we are here. Those, I think, are important things that a dean should be doing.
A dean should be going out to get corporate sponsorship for programming, and
those are the kinds of questions I am going to ask. I have got to go right now to
W: Have you seen that kind of effort in the past?
G: On a very minimal scale. We need more. Because there is less funding
everywhere, this is the time when people really have to be aggressive if the arts are
going to survive. We cannot just sit back and wait for somebody to give us
something. We have to go and seek it, to make ourselves available for service on
boards whenever we are called for. I was asked to be on Florida Arts Celebration
board, and that is why I was willing to go down there and do whatever I needed to
do. I still am in contact. I am not on the board now because I have served my time,
but I am constantly in touch with Paul Newman and Phyllis Bleisweis. I do not want
that relationship to be severed because it is a very important one for us in music.
From that relationship, Florida Arts Celebration has funded a lot of our recitals,
chorus things, and orchestra things that we do here. The only way you get those
kinds of things done is to make yourself available.
When I was in my junior year, I was doing a lot of solo work for our choir, and the
superintendent of schools, who was white at that time, loved my voice. The School
of the Arts was just starting.
W: You were in an all-black school, or was this an integrated situation?
G: This was primarily all black. It was a rural high school.
W: When was this?
G: This was 1964. We had in North Carolina what is called the Governor's School,
which is a gifted program for kids who have high IQ. I did the test with the
superintendent; he gave me the test. I qualified to go to the school, but at that time
I could not go because most of the time in the summer I was working on the farm
with my grandparents. But he took an interest in me, and my choir director and my
principal took me to the North Carolina School of the Arts for an audition. I had
never had formal voice lessons; I was just soloist for the choir. I auditioned for Rose
Banton, who, if you know about opera, was one of the old divas and still is. I mean
she is very, very important on the music scene in New York. I auditioned for her and
was given a four-year scholarship to the School of the Arts. I was one of the first
North Carolinians to be accepted to School of the Arts. I was the youngest person
in my class because I started school early. You could do that in those days, and
you could also skip grades and this and that. Fortunately, I had a grandmother who
had taught school in her early days, so I had a pretty good background coming into
When I was accepted and it came out in the paper about the school, Mrs. John
Hamrick, who was the wife of a prominent physician in Shelby who was white and
was one of the contact people for School of the Arts for whatever reason, got in
touch with me and became my mentor. She, Dr. and Mrs. Edwards, who was a
black physician and his wife, and the Dockerys, who were a black family who were
morticians, kind of formed a "board," and they decided that they would be the ones
who would take care of all the things that I needed outside of the scholarship that I
had. They bought my wardrobe for my trip to Europe. I was lucky. I always got a
scholarship to go where I needed to go, but they took care of the extra things that
my grandmother could not afford to do. (My grandfather was dead at that point.) So
they just sort of took over. They still are very close to me and dear to me. When I
do performances that they can get to, they always come.
Shelby, being a small southern town, was exceptionally good to me. It was
nurturing and supportive. When I go home to do a concert right now, there are a lot
of people I know were out there en route to Shelby. They do not know anything
about opera. They do not understand it or whatever, but when I give a concert, they
are there, primarily because they are my family. I have a very special love for North
Carolina because of that. I was going from one situation where I was not used to
interacting with a lot of people of different cultures and races and was plunged
immediately into one where I was in the vast minority at the School of the Arts. The
first year we started, I think there were five black students on campus, about three in
music and two in other disciplines.
W: I guess that is what I was thinking of, too. Even back when you were in Shelby and
in high school when you were receiving all this support and everything from these
white and black families, how did that affect your relationship with your black
G: Well, it was not new for me, because, like I said, I am from a racially mixed family,
so in my personal life I was very used to that already. It was kind of hard for some
of my friends to take because I was going against the grain. My life was always
against the grain, so it was not a big deal for me. But it did become a big deal for
them. Even when I go home now, I have a lot of the same friends that I had
growing up, and they always have found my life to be kind of fascinating. I do not
see it as such, but they do. I do not think I was everthe norm. I mean, coming from
the background that I come from and having the kind of interest that I had, it was
I was lucky in that even in high school there were people on the faculty who would
take me to operatic performances at the Charlotte opera and who took me to hear
people like Marian Anderson [contralto, first black soloist to sing with the
Metropolitan Opera, 1955]. She was retiring, and I heard one of her farewell
performances. I thought, my goodness, it must be wonderful to be able to generate
that kind of excitement, to use your voice and evoke. This woman was magic on the
stage, and I thought, I want to do that. Butterfly was the first opera I saw, and I
knew right then that that was what I wanted to do. I thought, someday I want to sing
that part. And I have. Every time I do it it is like a feeling that I cannot really
explain. But that is how I got involved, coming from that area.
W: When you went to Florida State, did you also go there on a type of scholarship?
G: Yes, I was a teaching assistant. The first couple of years I had a graduate
assistantship, and then later on I had a fellowship from the Ford Foundation. While
I was at Florida State, they always wanted me to teach. I guess that is where I
learned how to teach. But there again, I was one of the lucky ones. I had the
support of the entire voice faculty. They would always come up and offer advice
and what have you. So music for me was always my refuge, the one thing that gave
me a lot of security.
W: In that same sense, then, do you feel like it cost you any of your blackness or your
race or your identity there to be who you are or who you wanted to be back in those
G: No. Anybody who knows me knows I am very much a black woman. I am very
proud of being a mongrel. I am a true American because I think my family embodies
what America is all about. I mean, I am part Indian, I am part white, I am very much
black, and all of these things and all of the exposure to these different cultures run in
me and make me who I am.
W: And your family was proud of this? They took pride in this?
G: Oh, yes. It is always funny to me when I hear kids talk about discovering who they
are. I never was in doubt of who I was because my grandparents distilled in us a
strong sense of who we were, of where we came from, of what they expected of
us. So there was never any question in my mind. I always wanted to make an
impact, whether it is on the stage or in the studio or wherever, and I have been
lucky, I think, to be able to do a lot of what I wanted to do in opera and a lot of what I
wanted to do day to day in contact with other people.
W: You have mentioned several times now your racially mixed background. Who was
white, who was Indian, who was black?
G: My grandmother that is still living, my mother's mother, is half Cherokee and half
white, and she married my grandfather who was part Cherokee and black. Then on
my father's side there is some Crow and black. So the Indian influence is very
strong in my family, and I think it is obvious in a lot of ways. My brother has very
Indian features, and he is dark, and then I have another brother who is very fair with
sort of strawberry blond hair. When my family is together, it is a rainbow kind of
thing. But it was just a part of life. I did not think it was anything different because
there are a lot of Indian-mixed blacks in North Carolina and in South Carolina--that
is the way it is.
W: That is not uncommon at all. But your family, I think, is unique because from what I
heard you say and from who I know you to be, you are a black woman--that is what
you exhibit-- and your family has instilled this pride in just who you are, not that you
are half this, half this or a quarter this. It is who you are, and I think that is
G: That was my grandfather's whole point: he said you have to find your way. You
have to do the things that are important to you and try to be a good person, not just
a good black person, but a good person, and try to make an impact whatever you
decide to do in your life. And that is my philosophy, and that is how I try to live my
W: I think it comes through. Let us make a transition now from your racial background
and who you are as a black woman, to the University of Florida, to when you came
here as far as other black faculty you have contacts with and really what you have
seen happen here in the last eleven years, black-wise, on the faculty and what you
would like to see happen. Also, I would like for you to talk a little bit about your
being a black female faculty member, and also I think if you want to talk about salary
differential, that would be fine. I know that is an issue right now across this campus.
If you want to mention that, you can, too. When did you come here?
G: 1979. I think my professors at FSU and people in New York that I knew were
particularly shocked when I took this position. They never thought I would stay
because it was at a time when my career was moving. I had to make some
decisions, because I do have a son, and the decision I made was to finish my
doctorate and really concentrate on being a mother for a while. This job just fell in
line with that. Also, I wanted to teach; I wanted to get some experience in that area
on the university level. So I was lucky that the job came along.
Coming here, the University of Florida had a reputation of being a very redneck kind
of University--and still does. As a black woman, that was one of the questions
asked of me when I came here--how would I feel being the only black woman on this
faculty? It kind of shocked me. I said, "Well, how would you feel about it?" I have
no problem with that, because in my career I have been the only black in a lot of
situations, not just the only black woman but the only black, period. It does not
bother me, and I never really think about it until somebody reminds me that that is
the case. I try to see people as individuals, not as colors--whatever color or
whatever race. I think that here I have been more aware that I was in a minority,
and that is not a positive thing to say.
W: Are you saying you have not felt accepted?
G: Over the years, I think I have become accepted because I am here and I intend to
W: But not when you first came?
G: Well, when I first came it was a new kind of feeling. You have to prove yourself.
You have to try to make a place for yourself within a faculty where you are in a vast
W: Both as a black and as a woman.
G: Yes, both. It was not the same as being at the School of the Arts, because when
you are dealing with young, aspiring artists, and most of them were mainly from the
North, your talent was what they were interested in. As long as you were good at
what you did, it did not matter what color you were, particularly in a school like that
where you had to be good at what you do to even get in there. So you are dealing
with a different mind-set. Then you come to a place like this where it is not a
primarily arts-oriented community, and you have to prove that not only can you exist
as an artist but also as a professor, as someone who can be accepted in academia
as well as being an artist--as well as being a black person within all of this. It was a
different feeling. I feel that a lot of people fall under the weight of that, because it is
a tremendous pressure. It really is.
W: Did you feel that in the community also in 1979, when you tried to put down roots as
far as a home was concerned?
G: This area of the country is still very conservative. I feel it more here than in North
Carolina, oddly enough. You would think within a university town it would be more
open, but when you come over here just from Tallahassee, it is a different feeling.
W: Did you feel that because you set out to buy a home, to get your child in school?
Did you get racial tensions there?
G: Well, just putting my son in school was a big deal. Eric had been in gifted programs
all the time, and when I put him in school, [he had to be re-tested before he was put
in that level.] I had to go through all this stuff. They would not accept any of the
records from North Carolina. I had to bring him here to the University and have him
tested on my own and then have that guy call the people and say, "Listen, if you
have a gifted program, this child certainly deserves to be in it, because his IQ is
146." That was disturbing. And then he would come home and say, "They have me
on this reading level, and I read these books when I was in third and fourth grade. I
cannot believe this." That side of it, as a mother, made me more frustrated. The
things I have to deal with as a black woman I feel I can deal with, but when it is my
child, it takes on a completely different [tone]. It is more frustrating for me at that
I have been kind of disappointed with the things that are happening on this campus,
that things like the White Student Union has to exist in 1990. And I know that yes,
white students have a right to have a White Student Union, but it is the implication.
Black Student Union and organizations like that exist because of measures of
reparation, trying to bring us into the fold and trying to take up a lot of the slack that
happened because of slavery and all of this that affected the black race. You would
think that in 1990, having gone through the 1960s and all of the turmoil, that we
would be a more enlightened society.
But what I see happening in this country right now is very disturbing to me as a
black woman, as a mother. I feel like the gains that we made in terms of trying to
understand each other are going by the wayside. With the administrations that we
have had in Washington, a lot of the good has been undone. I feel very
disappointed in that.
I feel very disappointed in any academic setting, any university setting where there
are skinheads attacking folks on campus and the university does not try to do
anything to say, "We are not going to stand for this in 1990." That is disappointing
to me. I do not know what the University can do. I do not because I do not
understand that level and what they can do to circumvent it. But it is very
disappointing to me. I think it sends a signal to people who are radical thinking and
who are prejudiced and bigots that it is all right to be a bigot in 1990, that it is all
right to attack someone just because they are black or Hispanic or Oriental, and that
In a country where we are supposed to be a superpower, it is too bad that we are
not as concerned with moral fiber in our country. That is very disappointing. As a
black woman, I have been very lucky in my dealings because I have not had a lot of
racial tensions come up and hit me in the face, particularly coming from where I
come from. But I see it more now than then, and that is what is disturbing.
W: How do you feel about being in a department where there are only two black faculty
G: As I said, when I took the job, that was the case, and it still is the case. It does not
bother me so much that I am the only black woman, because I am a woman first.
W: And there are other women?
G: There are other women.
W: More and more.
G: Yes. I feel that I am qualified to do this job, so that is the bottom line. If you are
qualified and you take a job in an area where you know that you are in a vast
minority, if that bothers you, you should not take the job. It has never bothered me.
I do not have problems with working with a vast number of people who are not
black. I just wonder if they have a problem working with me. I do not dwell on that
kind of stuff.
W: If you were able to do the hiring, hypothetically, would you look for qualified black
women and black men for the faculty for this department or any other department in
the University? How do you feel about [blacks making up only] 5 or 6 percent of the
G: Well, I think that says it. I think a person getting a job should get the job because
they are qualified. In Affirmative Action, we have always known that since that
existed, you have always had to have a black here and there to justify whatever. I
think we are lucky in that most of the time when a black person is hired, you can bet
your bottom dollar they are going to be qualified. Otherwise they would not even be
in the running.
I look at Kevin Sharpe, who is not here right now but who hopefully will be back
here. If you look at the number of recitals and the amount of everything that he
produces here and when he is not here, then you see what I mean. He is a young
black man who is a fabulous pianist, and he contributes a lot to the University in
terms of his playing and in terms of his just being here. It allows us to do more
things than we do when he is not here.
I believe that the people who are here who are black that I have encountered across
the campus in all areas seem to be very qualified, very knowledgeable of what they
do. If they have any question about whether you are competent or whether you get
along with [others], you are not tenured. So you can safely say that ones who are
here and are tenured are qualified in their area.
W: How do you feel about pay? We want to know a little bit [about that]. You can say
whatever you feel comfortable saying.
G: I think when you look at the salaries, we know as a department that our salaries are
lower than the national average. I mean, we are very low. Anybody that is coming
in here realizes that. It is disturbing when you compare salaries across campus,
when you compare women's salaries to their male counterparts. I must say,
though, that in the last few years the University has been trying to bring in the
younger professors at a higher salary, just in general, so that hopefully every year
two or three professors that have been here get a salary equity adjustment so that
the salaries are gradually brought up. But at that rate we will always be behind.
Unless there is some kind of across-the-board kind of thing, we are always going to
be behind. That is frustrating, because given the amount of work that we do in this
department, which a lot of people do not know about--service in the community, the
number of recitals that we give, the amount of student-teacher time that we spend--it
is kind of frustrating to realize that within the University scheme, within the University
family, we are kind of a stepchild.
W: Do you think that is because you are, number one, a music professor, or a woman
or a black woman? Why do you feel that is true?
G: Well, I think that is primarily because I am a music professor. I think music in
W: You are saying our department is low.
G: Yes, I do not think it has anything to do with race. I think it has to do with what the
University deems our position is in the scheme of things. This is a research-oriented
university, so music is deemed more as a service department rather than a viable
part of the University community, and I think that has been a frustration for the
faculty in general.
W: That tends to be the history of the University of Florida.
W: Well, when you compare your salary to, say, a white woman in our department, is it
W: When you compare it to white men?
G: No, it is not always comparable.
W: It is not comparable?
G: I cannot complain too much, because when I look at my salary within the scheme of
things, there are only a few men who are not at the associate level who make more
than I do. The thing about it is they have either been given a raise or a promotion
based on the fact that we needed that person here, and they came in at a higher
salary or they got a job offer and bargained for a higher salary or something like
that. If I were at another university where music is a more integral part of the
university system, then my salary would reflect that, certainly with my performance
credentials and the fact that I am still a performer and the number of students I have
in my studio.
W: Instead of saying, "She does a lot of research and publishes papers" and this type
of thing, you are a performance person. You do recitals and operas. Is that looked
at equally, do you think?
G: They are beginning to try to do that. I do not think it is [looked upon equally],
though. It is my opinion that a recital or a new opera is not looked on with the same
importance as [other] academic [endeavors].
Most of the issues and most of the frustrations you feel as a music faculty person
has nothing to do with race, but it has to do with where you are in the scheme of
things at the University. The black people on this campus who have been hired
know they are in the vast minority. All they have to do is look at the number of
people in each department. But at the same time, to come in and do a good job
and make an impact, I think, makes it easier for the next person to come along.
Maybe they will look at them with a little more open mind because they can say,
"Well, we have this person, and they are doing a good job for us, and they have
been doing a good job over the years. They are tenured and have had success, so
maybe the time and the climate will be right for another person to come in." I am
hoping that is happening. But we will just have to see.
W: So in a way some things have changed, but a lot of things have remained the same
as far as the campus is concerned.
G: Yes, and a lot of things have gotten worse. When I came here in 1979, we did not
have skinheads attacking people on campus. Right now there seems to be across
the country a climate of racial unrest on campuses, and I do not know why that is.
I do not know if it is outside influences infiltrating the campuses to stir up
something. Every few years I guess we have to repeat the cycle. I guess it is true
what people say: you either learn from your mistakes, or you are condemned to
W: Do you feel like maybe our new presidential leadership here at the University will
have a positive effect on some of those? He has come out and said he wants to
hire more blacks and Hispanics for the faculty. He has made some positive
statements. He has not done anything yet, but he says he is going to go in that
direction. Do you think that will help the climate?
G: I hope so, because it is just like anything else. We take our cues from the
leadership, and if you have strong leadership standing for positive things, then we
get the message that that is the direction that we should be going. When we do
not get that, we get chaos.
W: And that is sort of where we have been?
W: Let us talk just briefly then about outside your career and faculty activities and
community and church and those kind of things. What do you do for fun?
G: Well, I love to dance, and I have a lot of good friends that I spend time with. This
weekend I am going over to St. Augustine to spend time with some friends of mine
who are doctors, Luther and Carol St. James. They have two little boys, and we
are going over and spend time on the beach. I like to go home to North Carolina
when I can, which is not very often anymore. But I try to get back there when I can.
I am a person who likes a lot of solitude when I can have it, because it is so rare
that I can have it.
W: Your son still lives at home?
W: And how old is he now?
G: Twenty. He is a sophomore here at the University. He has a rap dance group, and
they do a lot of shows on the weekends. So when he is off entertaining and I can
have a quiet weekend, that is the time I can listen to music and get caught up on
reading. I love to read and having some time to [myself].
W: I know you like to travel.
G: I love to travel, yes.
W: That has worked well with your career?
G: Yes, it has. It is a wondrous thing to me to realize that I grew up on a farm in a
town where people just did not travel. I mean, if they went to New York, that was a
big, big deal. In fact, it was kind of just discouraged. You were a small-town
person, and you stayed in your town with your people. That was it. To realize that
during my sophomore year I was in Rome--I was all over Europe--and the places
that I have gone during my lifetime, starting from point A, from Shelby, North
Carolina, that is a long way to go.
W: So you really broke the mold in that respect. Your family was not dirt-poor farmers.
I mean, you all were farmers; you made your living that way. But still it was a big
G: Yes, it was a big jump.
W: And they supported you all the way?
G: They never really understood why I wanted to do this, but they raised me to be an
individual and to do what I thought was right for myself. So why they did not
understand why I wanted to do this [is a puzzle to me]. But they never said no.
W: Maybe you could give us some insight here as far as what you feel like are your
goals and aims. What do you want to do the rest of your life? How do you feel
about staying here at UF the rest of your life, or do you have other aspirations?
G: Well, that is funny, because I am in the process of trying to think that through. I do
not know at this point whether or not my career will wind up here at Florida, but I feel
that I am always open to change. At the same time I am pretty happy with the work
that I am doing here. I am always evaluating and re-evaluating how I could make
the situation better, what impact I could have at any given place.
W: As a mother and single parent, does it depend on what your son wants to do? Are
you going to follow him, or is he going to go his own separate way and you are going
to go yours? How do you feel about that?
G: We talk about that all the time. Eric right now is trying to find out what he wants to
do with his career. Of course, I will be supportive of whatever he wants to do. We
have talked about in past years where we should be in terms of what is best for my
career and what is best for his career. Any move I would make, if I ever make a
move, would be with him in mind as well as myself. I guess I am like my
grandmother in the sense that Eric was my only child, and I am very close to him.
He is not just my son--he is my friend. We have always had that relationship, but I
guess it is a little different from the relationship that I see a lot of parents have with
their children. A lot of Eric's friends have commented, "Eric, your mother is like your
friend." Eric says, "Well, my mother is my friend." That is how I feel about him. He
is not just my son and somebody I take care of and tell what to do. He is very much
his own person as I was when I was coming up. So we talk about, "Is this the best
place for us to be?" And right now it is. If I should ever make a change, of course it
would be with him in mind. That is not to say that if I decide to make a change, I
could or could not make that change because of him, because basically my son is
W: Well, that was one of my questions, too. Did he decide to come to UF because you
are here or because he wanted to?
G: No, he decided to come to UF because he felt that was the best place for him to be
at this particular time. He had offers to go away to school, and I think that probably
he did not go because of me. I feel badly about that, and I have tried to tell him,
"You have to go and try your own wings." Eric is very protective of me in a lot of
ways, and I am always reassuring him that if he decides to transfer after this year to
another school or to go full-fledged into trying to have a career in whatever he
does--the air force has been another consideration--I will be fine, and I will support
that. I think he is beginning to believe it, because he is getting to be more
W: He sounds like a very special young man.
G: He is, and not just because he is my son. I have often told him that if I could have
gone into a store and picked out a son, he would be the one that I would pick. We
are very much alike, and that is good in a lot of ways and bad in a lot of ways. He is
strong enough to stand up and say what is on his mind, and that can be frustrating
for me, because I am very strong. I know that a lot of times people can say, "Oh,
Dr. Graham, you can be intimidating." I do not intimidate him, but I raised him.
W: And he knows you.
G: Yes, he knows me very well.
W: You sound more like a brother and sister.
G: A lot of times it feels like that. I had Eric when I was young, and he and I sort of
weathered a lot of storms together. Hence we have really special and close kind of
W: Well, it sounds that way. So your plans are not circling around him as far as what
his future plans are. You are trying to get him to cut those apron strings.
G: Yes. I am trying to encourage him to be more independent of me. Because he is
my only child, the tendency, of course, is to want to hold him very close, but I realize
that he has to find his own way too.
W: Who is going to drive you around if he leaves town?
G: Well, I do not know. I will have to find another driver. [laughter]
W: Do you want to tell us why you do not have a driver's license?
G: I do have a driver's license, I really do. And I keep my driver's license. I just hate to
drive. I do have a driver's license. On occasion I do drive myself to the grocery
store or what have you, but I just do not like to drive.
W: You know a lot of students talk about you.
G: Oh, I know they do.
W: Because they want to know, "Why does she not drive a car?" It is one of those
things. You know how kids are around the music building--it is one of those
G: I know.
W: Is that not wonderful?
G: I guess I am a little eccentric in that area. I do not like to drive. I just do not like to.
W: But if you are trying to get him to be more independent, then you would have to be
G: Before Eric started driving, I would take the taxi or the bus. I guess I got
accustomed to a bigger city where a car is actually an inconvenience. You have to
find a place to park, you have to pay storage, you have to do everything. So it was
most expedient to ride the bus or the subway. Here, because it is almost like living
in a rural area where everybody has a car, it is a change.
W: I just want to tell you how much I have enjoyed listening to you and learning more
G: Well, it has not been boring.
W: No, it has not.
G: It has not been a boring life.
W: Thank you.