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Muriel B. Smith, Creator of 'Carmen Jones' Role

September 18, 1985|From Times Wire Services

RICHMOND, Va. — A memorial service is scheduled Saturday for Muriel Burrell Smith, who created the role of "Carmen Jones" on Broadway in 1943.

The mezzo-soprano and actress died in a hospital here Friday at the age of 62. The cause of death was not announced.

Miss Smith, who last year received the National Council of Negro Women's award for women in the arts, found her greatest fame in Britain, where she ranked among the leading recitalists of the 1950s.

She once said her race "figured sub rosa throughout my career. I couldn't do anything I wanted to do without tackling the race question."

Miss Smith began her career in 1937 at age 14, when she appeared on radio in "Major Bowes' Amateur Hour." She attended Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music and then landed the title role of "Carmen Jones," based loosely on Bizet's "Carmen," on Broadway.

She figured in "Moulin Rouge" in 1952, singing the songs that Zsa Zsa Gabor mouthed on the screen.

In 1958, she turned down an offer by Samuel Goldwyn to star in a film version of "Porgy and Bess" because, she said in a letter, "It doesn't do the right thing for my people."

Instead, she made "The Crowning Experience," a 1960 film about the life of black educator Mary McCloud Bethune. The film, one of the first with a multiracial cast of equal billing, was credited with helping to integrate theaters in Atlanta and with easing racial tension there.

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