A Star Is Reborn (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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A Star Is Reborn: Marquita Lister (Rebroadcast)

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:39:46
Welcome back to "Metro Connection," I’m Rebecca Sheir. And this week, we're checking out some favorite stories and interviews from the show. This next piece generated a lot of buzz around Washington when it played back in February. It's about a D.C. born opera star who, at a relatively young age found herself fighting for her life. Now, if you get your hands on DECA's 2006 recording of George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," you go to disc two, track 10, you hit play on the stereo or computer or iPod or whatever it is you're using to listen. You'll hear this.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:40:36
It's a soaring soprano voice that aficionados in the opera worlds have called big, lush and luscious, one that pops and fizzes as it carries across the footlights. And that voice belongs to Marquita Lister, who in addition to being a beautiful statuesque world-class opera star, also just happens to be...

MS. MARQUITA LISTER

13:40:57
A native of Washington D.C.

SHEIR

13:40:58
What part of D.C.?

LISTER

13:40:59
Upper northwest Washington by (sounds like) Acorda Baron.

SHEIR

13:41:02
In the 1970s, when Lister was attending what was then Alice Deal Junior High School, one of her music teachers...

LISTER

13:41:08
Mrs. Lauderdale, who I still remember.

SHEIR

13:41:10
...told Lister's mother that her daughter, her only child, had a talent.

LISTER

13:41:14
And you need to cultivate it and that's what led to me getting a voice teacher.

SHEIR

13:41:18
Which eventually led to Lister performing in some of the world's greatest opera houses with some of the world's greatest opera stars, like Sherrill Milnes, Simon Estes.

LISTER

13:41:28
Maestro Domingo, Frederica Von Stade.

SHEIR

13:41:31
Justine Diaz.

LISTER

13:41:32
The list kind of goes on and on.

SHEIR

13:41:34
And it seemed Lister's career would, too. She was earning raves for a number of legendary roles, including Aida, Tosca, Salome and of course, Bess. How many times have you sung Bess, out of curiosity?

LISTER

13:41:46
My God, over 500 times.

SHEIR

13:41:48
But in the summer of 2006, it all started to come crashing down.

LISTER

13:41:54
I was up for Salome at La Scala and I noticed that my hands started hurting and shortly after that, I noticed I was having a hard time walking. I was having a hard time moving my arms and a hard time breathing.

SHEIR

13:42:09
Lister flew back to D.C. and spent a month at Providence Hospital while doctors struggled to figure out what was going on.

LISTER

13:42:16
And one day when I woke up, I was very feverish and I started vomiting and I couldn't move my legs at all.

SHEIR

13:42:24
With that, Lister was transferred to Washington's National Rehabilitation Hospital where specialists were finally, finally able to diagnosis her.

LISTER

13:42:32
I had this very odd autoimmune disorder called Polymyositis.

SHEIR

13:42:37
Doctors managed her condition for a while, but Lister says she soon suffered a relapse.

LISTER

13:42:43
I was in total organ failure and I was really on the brink of death.

SHEIR

13:42:47
When her condition stabilized, Lister started working to regain her stamina, her strength, but it wasn't easy.

LISTER

13:42:54
I had to totally relearn how to walk, how to hold a fork, how to write. Some of my memory had been erased and I was slowly starting to get that back.

SHEIR

13:43:04
But the million-dollar question, of course, was, would she ever get her voice back?

LISTER

13:43:10
Marvin, who is my accompanist, helped me through the process of having to rebuild my voice note by note so that I could phonate and focus the tone so it wasn't defused.

MR. MARTIN MILLS

13:43:21
We worked diligently and that first year particularly.

SHEIR

13:43:24
This, of course, is Marvin, Marvin Mills. How long have you two been working together?

LISTER

13:43:29
Eight years maybe.

MILLS

13:43:32
Yeah, at least.

SHEIR

13:43:33
And like Mills says, that first year of Lister's rehabilitation was tough.

MILLS

13:43:37
I was constantly amazed at her fortitude and drive to get herself back in working shape. It is something I will always remember as an inspiration whenever I might feel like woe is me.

LISTER

13:43:52
Marvin was seeing me when I was still in my wheelchair and if we could just do two notes that day, then we felt like it was a victory. So he was like, well, see, it's coming. That's great. And I thought, he's either totally crazy or he truly does love me.

SHEIR

13:44:08
Well, it turns out Marquita Lister was half right. Martin Mills does love her, heck, just about everyone who's ever known her or seen her perform seems to fall in love, but he wasn't crazy. By June 2007, Lister was in Berlin set to play Aida.

SHEIR

13:44:25
And my German doctor there came to the performances because he was so afraid I was going to pass out on the stage from all of the physicality and he was like, my God, you're so crazy. You're going to make me lose all my hair.

SHEIR

13:44:38
But she finished up the run and by 2009, she was performing Rusalka in Boston and singing Bess at the Hollywood Bowl. This month, Lister is poised to make her D.C. comeback at a recital for her favorite non-profit organization, The Negro Spiritual Scholarship Foundation.

LISTER

13:44:54
And the mission of the foundation was to preserve and promote the Negro spiritual songs and to give scholarship help to college-bound students of Afro-ethnic descent.

SHEIR

13:45:04
Lister will sing in Riha (sp?) some songs by German composer Ludwig Spohr and six spirituals including, "A City Called Heaven," which she and Mills recently ran through for me at Mills Church in Kensington, Md.

SHEIR

13:45:45
Listening to Marquita Lister's voice, it's hard to believe that not so long ago she was struggling just to get up and get dressed in the morning. But through it all, Lister says, she never really lost hope.

LISTER

13:45:58
I just refused to believe that my career was over. I really do believe that if you dare to believe, if you simply dare to believe, then you open yourself up to the realm of possibility and here I am.

SHEIR

13:46:36
Brava, Marquita says, it felt wonderful to get up and perform again in her hometown. And in fact, thanks to this story, Marquita had a reunion of sorts with her teacher, Ms. Lauderdale. And last I heard, they were going out to have some lunch and do some catching up.
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