When elections are close then perhaps only 20% have voted for those ultimately elected." "I am not a pacifist. I think you must fight for what you believe. But I have seen war close up, the horrors of it. If it can be avoided it should be. Think of the people, the children suffering bombardment every day, every day, every day. It's like they had the 11th of September every day. Not knowing if it was going to fall on them." She roots back her passion for democracy to the fact that she was born, in 1948, in an America where she had no right to vote and where later in southern states literacy tests were demanded to exclude poorly educated communities.
"When Civil Rights Bill was passed, following the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, I felt my right to vote was something very precious but very vulnerable. If I want my children and their children to have those rights too, then it is something that I have to defend strongly." Her anger with the way citizens were treated by the US and Britain coincides with her frustration that the UNHCR is not given the mandate to really do an effective job.
"We are an emergency organisation and we arrive when the people have already decided to leave home. And then when we leave we cannot reassure people that they are going back to any kind of stability. We're not supposed to repatriate people to situations which are unstable but we have nothing to do ensure that stability." Hendricks says she now wants to continue, making her own small contribution, working for prevention and reconciliation. She set up a small Foundation in 1998 for this purpose
She can't contain her fury at the treatment the UN has received.
"We've tried in the last 50 years to put together an organisation of nations working together to find solutions. The purpose of that organisation is not to go to war but to find everything to do to solve a problem without going to war." "If there are reasons that a dictator, leader or a regime should be changed then there are legal ways to go about it. Slower, but legal." "I felt everything was a big lie. The evidence that was presented in front of the Security Council was a lie, forged papers, a student's thesis that was ten years old and then the 'imminent' threat that in 45 minutes they would have weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons." Her argument is not about the changing of regime in Iraq or Saddam Hussein.
"I am not a cheerleader of Saddam Hussein. But I am very much upset about the way in which we, the citizens of the world, were treated with total disdain, as if we were complete idiots. I'm upset the way the UN was treated. To go to the UN Security Council with lies is a crime really." Hendricks' mind races. A short question 'You're involved in politics?' sets off the heartfelt but logical and powerful discourse.
"People are using September 11 to crack down on civil liberties
About a year ago I went to sing for the beginning of a country, which was East Timor. It was fantastic, moving. If they had tried to seek independence after September 11 the president there now would be considered a terrorist." "I worried on the one hand, but I do see that there is a consciousness and that people are not as apathetic as I thought. So we need to demand real political dialogue from our leaders. We are suffering under an epidemic of mediocrity in terms of the political class that are leading us in the world.
Mediocre and minus." She promptly excludes Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel from the hit list.
When she talks of her music, her voice as an instrument, it's almost as if the diva can put that away like violin in its case to get on with domestic life. Her two children Sebastian Amadeus, 22, and Jennie, 19 are central to her conversation. "I've never had problems getting down on my knees to do housework!" Hendricks is currently on a busy recital tour of Europe culminating in the summer with jazz performances in Holland and Germany and Chamber music in her adopted home of Switzerland
Amathematics and chemistry graduate, she was cultivated by her mentor Jennie Tourel. Hendricks enjoys the control recitals with piano allow her.
"A one hour recital can be less tiring than a 25 minute piece with orchestra when I feel I'm having to pull them along and trying to get them to listen." "I find that conductors are not asking so much because so many are guest conducting and they want to be nice to the orchestra so that they get asked back. Unless they have a demanding regular conductor they don't advance
And there's just no time for rehearsal." Always singing in the school choirs - spirituals, jazz, a little classical - she never imagined herself as a professional singer until much later.
Her first opera was at 12. Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors in which she played the part of the boy
It was a summer at music camp with Tourel that changed the course of her life. That led to her studies at Julliard
"I did not really have any influences at the beginning. I was mostly influenced by my own teacher. As I did not have that instrument that Leontyn Price had, it was an entirely different repertoire. My repertoire was more Mozart and lieder. But I was influenced by Price's example. She opened doors that I did not have to knock on. They were already opened for me. It made my life easier having that generation of black singers, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Shirley Verret and others, ahead of me." "When I met Joan Sutherland I remember telling her that it was because of the first record I had heard of her that I never attempted the coloratura.
'I couldn't think as fast as you sing'." But how does a classical recitalist switch into jazz? "It's no different to when I prepare for Shoshtakovich or any recital. I work with professional jazz musicians. Singing Schubert and Debussy are just as different as singing Mozart and Duke Ellington." Her neighbour in Switzerland, Claude Nobbs of the Montreux Jazz Festival, got her into preparing seriously for a performance of Ellington songs in 1994 before a jazz audience.
"It was not until just ten minutes before I went out on the stage that I thought, this could be disastrous. I was having so much fun getting it ready and doing it. I thought, what if they hate it." They loved it.
Hendricks laments declining audiences for classical music and jazz and puts this down to the way children are being cut out from access to culture.
You have to get to young audiences before they are 12 or they'll probably reject it. Too much cable TV, few culture channels and opera being pushed into the early hours.
"You've got to be an insomniac," she says with a slightly wicked laugh. A finger is even pointed at a British politician
"I remember when Tony Blair came in, one of his culture ministers said something like classical music has to compete with the rest of the music.
But that is like telling children 'here's some spinach and here's some chocolate cake, here's some ice cream - you eat what you want.'" "You have to say 'no, you can have ice cream. But you need to have vegetables and a balanced diet in order to be healthy. Instead we say that if people don't go to the opera we have to close it. Culture is not a commodity like selling shoes or throwing away old ones. It's our heritage for all humanity." She laments the way museums in Iraq have been destroyed and things stolen, just as when the Buddhist statues were blown up by the Taliban.
"It was like a part of us was destroyed. We don't defend culture enough." ------------- The official website for Barbara Hendricks is www.barbarahendricks.com
Heaven and Earth
Interviewed by Dominique Searle Malaga 2003
On stage she's a diva. Black, beautiful and in control of every moment.
Barbara Hendricks briefly glances across the auditorium with a teacher like glare before breaking into a smile and releasing her powerful voice. Her mother taught in the tiny American town of Stephens, Arkansas. Her father was a pastor
As she exited the lift into the slightly gaudy, mock art-deco café of the Hotel Larios, Malaga for the interview, she lifted the dark barrier of her sun-glasses, briefly flashing that glare again, to unveil a soft-spoken, approachable person
Hendricks speaks plainly of her anger with today's political class.
"I have to say I've reached a point were I'm, not off politics, but I feel I need to take a little time for myself.
What has been going on in the world has been making me a little bit sick. I see democracy being greatly threatened. We were treated like children in this situation with Iraq. They never, ever said at the beginning that the whole point was to get rid of Saddam Hussein." Since 1987 Hendricks has worked as a goodwill. Ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), but tries to avoid the glamorous fund raising events. She's been out often to the frontline of the humanitarian crisis in Sarajevo, Malaysia and Africa. She seeks a balance between her low profile mission to help refugees and a heavy music schedule
Hendricks expects excellence not just from musicians but political leaders too.
After a growing sense of disappointment in recent times, the anti-war demonstrations this year revived a waning confidence in humanity.
"It's been a very difficult time. But I was heartened by February 15, by how many millions of people, even high school kids, decided to stand. I had felt lately that one of the real menaces for democracy is the lack of interest of citizens. In most of our so-called democratic countries our leader are elected by less than half of the voting population because of apathy.