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A Civil Rights Figure's Long Road — To Carnegie Hall

Myrlie Evers-Williams leads her three children — Reena (from left), Van and Darrell — at the family piano, circa 1965.
Courtesy of the Evers family
Myrlie Evers-Williams leads her three children — Reena (from left), Van and Darrell — at the family piano, circa 1965.

You know the old joke: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice." Myrlie Evers-Williams took a different route.

Her late husband, Medgar Evers, was the Mississippi head of the NAACP; he was assassinated for his work in 1963. Evers-Williams wound up moving to Southern California, where she became an educational, corporate and political leader and, in the 1990s, chairwoman of the NAACP.

But music has always been one of her loves, and she's about to fulfill a longtime dream: Myrlie Evers-Williams is playing Carnegie Hall, backed by the genre-spanning orchestra Pink Martini. They'll take the stage for the second of two shows this evening.

"Music and I have been partners for a very, very long time," Evers-Williams says. "My aunt and my grandmother, the two women who reared me, both played the piano, so they decided around age 4 that their child should take piano lessons. My aunt, I recall how she put aside the 25 cents every week for my music lessons. She wanted so badly for me to perform as an artist, a classical artist. Of course, during the time that I was growing up, at that time you found very few African-Americans — or Negroes, as we were called then — performing classical music anyplace. But she had set her sights very, very high for me, and she said, 'Carnegie Hall is it, baby. That's where you're gonna perform one day.' And, as a nice child, I said, 'Oh, yes, I'll be there.' "

Speaking with NPR's Scott Simon, Myrlie Evers-Williams discusses meeting her late husband in college, connecting with Pink Martini and dealing with nerves. Click the audio link on this page to hear more.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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