Frieda Belinfante

Frieda Belinfante (Amsterdam, 1904 – Santa Fe, 1995) was a cellist, conductor, prominent lesbian and a member of the Dutch Resistance during World War II. In 1943 Frieda Belinfante, Willem Arondeus (an openly gay man and a leading member of the Dutch resistance) and others destroyed thousands of records from the population registry in Amsterdam. The Nazis used the register to identify and trace Jewish people and to verify identity cards. Shortly after the attack Belinfante had to escape to Switzerland. She returned to the Netherlands shortly after the war.

In 1947 she emigrated to the US and continued her career in music. A few years later the founded the Orange County Philharmonic. She was the first female conductor of a professional symphony orchestra. In 1962 her contract with the orchestra was not continued. According to some because of the rumors about her sexuality, according to others because the unwillingness by the community to support a woman conductor. Even members of her own board suggested it was time to bring in a man. She continued her work working with other orchestras, but now on a smaller scale. She organized many concerts for school children. In 1987 in an interview with the Los Angeles Times she said: “We played them short pieces and taught them that music is a language which tells a story. We established a rapport with their lives. Kids were fascinated.”

Frieda Belinfante

On February 19, 1987 “freedom fighter, pioneer woman conductor, orchestra founder and local cultural educator, 82-year-old Frieda Belinfante” was honored by the Orange County Board of Supervisors. In noting “her many contributions to the Orange County musical community” over 30 years, the Board proclaimed February 19 to be known as “Frieda Belinfante Day.”

In 1998 Toni Boumans produced a film about her life: …but I was a girl. The story of Frieda Belinfante.

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