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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Alumnus screens documentary about Black opera singer

Bill Nicoletti screened the film to students on Feb. 21. PHOTO: KELLY SHANNON ’24/THE HAWK

A documentary film made by a St. Joe’s alumnus, “Once in a Hundred Years: The Life and Legacy of Marian Anderson” was screened on Feb. 21 in the Mandeville Hall Teletorium as part of a series of five Black History Month events hosted by the Center for Inclusion and Diversity (CID). 

The film screening and discussion was also sponsored by The Pedro Arrupé, S.J., Center for Business Ethics, the Black Student Union (BSU), the Department of Music, Theatre and Film and SJU Athletics.

Bill Nicoletti ’86, ’10 is both the producer and director of the film, which was released in 2019. The documentary about Marian Anderson, who was a contralto opera singer born in 1897 known as The Lady from Philadelphia, tells the story about her upbringing in South Philadelphia in the early 1900s, her singing talents and her rise to fame as a civil rights icon. 

Nicoletti said Philadelphia was at the center of the universe for classical music at the time, but it was also very segregated. Anderson struggled with racism and segregation, especially in the classical music industry.

“The training opportunities, and the learning opportunities for someone like Marian didn’t exist,” Nicoletti said. “So really, it all came down to her community and to her church, to her family. And, she had to rely on that support group so much.” 

Tim Swift, Ph.D., professor of management and part of The Pedro Arrupé, S.J., Center for Business Ethics, said this was the second time the documentary was screened on campus.

“We were proud of Bill [Nicoletti], we are proud of Marian Anderson’s contribution to our city and to society at large,” Swift said. “So it helps St. Joe’s to bring awareness to the DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] issues and so we were happy to do it.” 

The documentary highlights Anderson’s accomplishments as a Black American opera singer and also tells the story of her leadership and activism according to Nicole R. Stokes, Ph.D., associate provost of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. 

“Black History Month is one month of the year, but we could be celebrating Black history all year long because it’s part of our American narrative,” Stokes said. “So I think it is important for us to know and learn about figures that have come before us.” 

Nicoletti said the idea of making a film about Anderson seemed like a fantasy at first, but he knew that he wanted to pursue making a film about her. 

“What I learned was kind of going beneath the color of someone’s skin and really learning about who they are as a person, their character, their heart, their spirit,” Nicoletti said. “That’s really what motivated me.”

Kevin Schurr ’24, who attended the screening, said he had no knowledge of Marian Anderson prior to watching the documentary, but he learned a lot from the film.

“Her global impact as well as her impact in the United States was my big takeaway,” Schurr said. “She brought people together through her ability to sing and she was able to push legislation and she was truly remarkable in that way.” 

Joseph Gibbs ’25, who also attended the screening, said he first learned about Marian Anderson in kindergarten, but he learned more about her travels in Europe from the documentary. 

“What inspired me is that through all her adversity she was able to be a good role model, and that really is inspiring,” Gibbs said.

Swift said Anderson was a great example of how a prominent person was able to fight for social justice in the areas of politics and music. 

“I think one of the cool things about Marian Anderson is that her contributions through art and through music were so influential, and it shows, or helps us consider, the number of ways that Black Americans have contributed to our society and how they’ve helped us become a better country,” Swift said.

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Allie Miller
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