She ultimately wound up pursuing a career in education but for one stretch four decades ago, Barbara Suggs Mason enjoyed her 15-plus minutes of fame on-stage.
The year was 1976. The place: Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, where the Illinois Opera Theater was putting on a production of ‘Porgy and Bess.’
And not just any production, mind you.
“I read that this was the first time the Gershwin family had allowed a university production," says Suggs Mason, a retired schools superintendent. "I was cast in the small part of Maria. Working with professors William Warfield, David Lloyd, Robert Ray and Paul Vermel was a wonderfully heady experience. I learned so much.
“Most memorable, I remember standing in the hall outside of the Festival Theatre and being introduced by Professor Warfield to the great Eva Jessye and having her compliment my performance.
“She was the choral director selected by Gershwin himself for the original production of ‘Porgy and Bess’ in 1935. I am still amazed.
“I never enter Krannert without reflecting on those times.”