Bethany Beardslee to speak at MSU College of Music Commencement

Renowned soprano and MSU Music alumna will also receive an honorary doctorate.

Bethany Beardslee being interviewed on WEFM radio prior to her performance of Pierrot Lunaire in Cleveland with conductor Pierre Boulez.
A tribute album was released in 1997 honoring some of Bethany Beardslee's greatest recordings between 1969 and 1981. She is featured on works by Philip Batstone, George Perle and others.

An MSU College of Music alumna whose remarkable career as a soprano and champion of 20th century music spanned nearly 50 years will speak at the College’s 2018 commencement on May 5.

Bethany Beardslee received her bachelor’s degree in music from MSU when it was known as Michigan State College in 1946. The iconic American soprano will be awarded an honorary doctorate from MSU during the same weekend she delivers her keynote address to College of Music graduates. Beardslee will spend time on campus interacting with students and faculty through various activities.

The 92-year-old Beardslee was born in 1925 in Lansing, Michigan. Sometimes referred to as “the young woman from East Lansing who could sing anything,” the soprano is noted for her collaborations with prominent mid-century composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, George Perle and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. She was universally praised for her impeccably accurate performances of the fiendishly difficult music of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern.

Beardslee’s singing is defined by the effortless quality with which she sang seemingly impossible rhythms and phrases. Many contemporary composers regarded her as the go-to singer for their complex works that challenged classical music audiences. 

“Were there no Bethany Beardslee, she could not have been invented,” said composer Milton Babbitt, a long-time friend and colleague.

Beardslee’s remarkable career spanned the early 1950s to the late 1990s. Her recently released memoir I Sang the Unsingable: My Life in Twentieth-Century Music chronicles her journey from the MSU campus to auspicious venues like Carnegie Hall, and her unwavering dedication to mid-century music and composers.

“We at the College of Music are very excited to welcome Bethany Beardslee back to East Lansing,” says James Forger, dean of the College of Music.  “This is a wonderful opportunity for students to interact with an alumna who was a trailblazer and built an international performance career in collaboration with some of the leading composers of the 20th century.  I hope they are inspired by her story.”

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