We Three Queens

Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993)

MarianAnderson.org: Marian Anderson was born to a warm, loving, hardworking family on Webster Street in South Philadelphia. A woman of simple dignity and serene charm, she raised her art to a pinnacle of such perfection that when she sang, music became akin to religion in its emotional impact.

She first began singing in the choir of Union Baptist church, learning all the parts from soprano to bass, a discipline that helped to develop her extraordinary range. She was 15 when she received her first formal lesson.

The Union Baptist congregation established a Marian Anderson fund to enable her to have regular and thorough training. When Marian was introduced to Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini, he told her "A voice like yours is heard only once in a hundred years."

She debuted at the New York Philharmonic on August 26, 1925 and scored an immediate success, also with the critics. In 1928, she sang for the first time at Carnegie Hall.

Her reputation was further advanced by her tour though Europe in the early 1930's. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius dedicated his Solitude to her.

In 1955 , Anderson broke the color barrier by becoming the first African-American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera . On that occasion, she sang the part of Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi 's Un ballo in maschera. The occasion was bittersweet as Anderson, at age 58, was no longer in her prime vocally.

In 1958 she was officially designated delegate to the United Nations , a formalization of her role as "goodwill ambassador" of the U.S. she played earlier, and in 1972 she was awarded the UN Peace Prize.

After an extensive farewell tour, she retired from singing in 1965 . Her achievements were recognized and honored with many prizes, including a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1991.

Marian Anderson died in 1993 at her nephew's home in Portland, Oregon at the age of 96 of natural causes. She is interred in the Eden Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Leontyne Price (February 10, 1927)

AfroVoices.com: Mary Violet Leontyne Price was born and raised in the colored section of Laurel, Mississippi. Her mother, Kate, was a midwife, and her father, James, worked in a sawmill. She was nurtured under the watchful eye of the community, which extended even to her aunt's employers, the Chisholms, a family who lived in a white, affluent section of town. Her musical talents were encouraged, and her voice frequently was heard at area social events.

Price received a scholarship to attend Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio. She began as a music education major, but she completed her studies there in voice. With the assistance of Paul Robeson and the school's administration, in addition to the financial backing of the Chisholm family, Price next went to Juilliard.

While attending Juilliard, she appeared in revivals of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and Four Saints in Three Acts, by Virgil Thomson. The Porgy and Bess cast toured the United States and Europe with baritone William Warfield and Price singing the title roles. The two singers married in 1952, but the pressures of their separate careers eventually forced them to part.

Price was engaged to sing the lead for the National Broadcasting Company's production of Puccini's Tosca in 1955. There were strenuous objections, and some cancellations, from local affiliates; nonetheless, her dramatic portrayal and vocal performance in this historic broadcast were a critical success.

Other televised operatic roles soon followed. Then, in 1957, Price sang Verdi's Aida for the first time. She identified strongly with the character, and her success led her to Vienna to sing for conductor Herbert von Karajan and, in 1960, to the stage of La Scala.

In January, 1961, she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera as Leonora in Verdi's Il Trovatore. Her performance was a success not only to the audience who witnessed it, but to the New York critics as well. She was signed for additional roles there and at other houses around the world. By the mid 1960's, her reputation had grown to the extent that she was offered the lead in the Samuel Barber opera commissioned especially for the opening of the Met's new facilities at Lincoln Center. The opening performance of Antony and Cleopatra in 1966, though marred by the extremes taken in costuming and staging, solidified Price's place as one of the world's great divas.

In the years that followed, Price's notoriety allowed her the freedom to select roles she wanted, often taking rests between runs. She increased the number of recitals in the 1970s and made several operatic and concert recordings, earning 18 Grammy awards over the years. Price retired from the opera stage at the Met in 1985 with her signature role, Aida. This live telecast was viewed by millions, and her performance of the aria, "O Patria Mia," was the top ranked "Great Moments at the Met: Viewer's Choice" selection.

Jessye Norman (September 15, 1945)

Bach-Cantatas.com: The exceptionally gifted black American soprano, Jessye Norman, received in 1961 a scholarship to study at Howard Univversity in Washington, D.C., where she had vocal lessons from Carolyn Grant. She continued her training at the peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore and at the University of Michigan, where her principal teachers were Pierre Bernac and Elizabeth Mannion. In 1968 She won the Munich Competition.

Jessye Norman made her operatic debut in 1969 as Elisabeth in Tannbauser at the Berlin Deutsche Oper. She appeared in the title role of L'Africaine at Florence's Maggio Musicale in 1971, and the following year sang Aida at Milan's La Scala and Cassandra in Les Troyens at London's Covent Garden. Subsequently she made in 1973 major recital debuts in London and New York. After an extensive concert tour of North America during 1976-1977, she made her USA stage debut as Jocasta in Oedipus rex and as Purcell's Dido on a double bill with the Opera Company of Philadelphia in November 1982. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York as Cassandra in September 1983 (or Les Troyens of Berlioz, which opened the company’s 100th anniversary season in 1983). Numerous operatic appearances at the Metropolitan Opera followed, the most recent of these was her celebrated portrayal of the title character in the Met’s premier production of Janacek’s The Makropulos Case in 1996.

In 1986 she appeared as soloist in Strauss's Vier letzte Lieder with the Berliner Philharmoniker during its tour of the USA. In September 1989, she was the featured soloist with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. in its opening concert of its 148th season, which was telecast live to the nation by PBS. In 1992 she sang Jocasta at the opening operatic production at the new Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto. In September 1995, she was again the featured soloist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, this time under Kurt Masur's direction, in a gala concert telecast live to the nation by PBS making the opening of the orchestra's 53rd season.

Jessye Norman’s 1998-1999 performances included a recital at Carnegie Hall in New York City, which had an unusual program incorporating sacred music of Duke Ellington, scored for jazz combo, string quartet and piano, and featuring the Alvin Ailey Repertory dance Ensemble. Other performances during the season included Das Leid von der Erde, with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a television special for Christmas filmed in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia, as well as a spring recital tour, which included performances in Tel Aviv. The following season also brought performances of the sacred music of Duke Ellington to London and Vienna, together with a summer European tour, which included performances at the Salzburg Festival.

This rich history continues to be made as Jessye Norman e brings her sumptuous sound and spontaneous passion to recital performances, operatic portrayals, and appearances with symphony orchestras and chamber music collaborators, to the delight of listeners worldwide. Her extraordinary repertory ranges from Purcell to Richard Rodgers. She sings a widely varied operatic repertoire, having appeared at La Scala, Milan; the Teatro Communale, Florence; the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; the Stuttgart Opera, Vienna, and Hamburg State Operas; Opera Company of Philadelphia; The Lyric Opera of Chicago; Aix-en-Provence Festival; and the Salzburg Festival. She commended herself in Mussorgsky's songs, which she performed in Moscow in the original Russian. In her recitals she gave performances of the classical German repertory as well as contemporary masterpieces, such as Arnold Schoenberg's Gurrelieder and the French moderns, which she invariably performed in the original tongue. This combination of scholarship and artistry contributed to her consistently successful career as one of the most versatile concert and operatic singers of her time.

The vocal phenomenon that is Jessye Norman has long been acknowledged as possessing one of the world’s most beautiful voices. The sheer size, power, and luster of her voice share equal acclaim with that for her thoughtful, provocative music-making, prompting one writer to observe that "her vocal phrasing moves beyond mere seamlessness to convey a more ardent, spontaneous passion." Often cited for her innovative programming and fervent advocacy of contemporary music, she has earned the recognition of another writer who describes her as "one of those once –in-a-generation singers who isn’t simply following in the footsteps of others, but is staking out her own niche in the history of singing."

In December 1997, Jessye Norman was invested with the USA's highest award in the performing arts, the Kennedy Center Honro, making history as the youngest recipient in the Honors’ 20-year existence. Her many other prestigious awards and distinctions include honorary doctorates at the some thirty colleges, universities and conservatories around the world. In 1984 the French Government bestowed upon her the title "Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" and the National Museum of Natural History in Paris named an orchid for her. In October 1989 she was awarded the "Legion d’Honneur" by French President Mitterand, and in June 1990 she was named Honorary Ambassador to the United Nations by U.N. Secretary Xavier Perez de Cueller.

Jessye Norman’s distinguished catalogue of recordings has won numerous awards, including France’s "Grand Prix National du Disque" for albums of lieder by Wagner, Schumann, Gustav Mahler and Schubert; London’s prestigious Gramophone Award for her outstanding interpretation of Strauss’ Four Last Songs; Amsterdam’s Edison Prize; and recording honors in Belgium, Spain, and Germany. In the USA, her Grammy Award winning recording includes "Songs of Maurice Ravel," and Wagner’s Lohengrin and Die Walküre. She was winner of an "Ace" Award from the National Academy of Cable Programming for "Jessye Norman at Notre Dame." Recordings released recently are Das Lied von der Erde, with James Levine and Berliner Philharmoniker, and Bluebeard’s Bastle, with Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which has received four Grammy nominations.

In addition to her busy performance schedule, Jessye Norman serves on the Boards of Directors for The New York Public Library, the New York Botanical Garden, City-meals-on-Wheels in New York city, The Dance Theatre of Harlem. The National Music Foundation and The Elton John AIDS Foundation. She is a member of the board as well as National spokesperson for the LUPUS Foundation and spokesperson for The Partnership for the Homeless. And in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia, she serves on the Board of Trustees of Paine College and The Augusta Opera Association. An enthusiastic Girl Scout cookie seller, she is a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of America. Jessye Norman resides in New York State.


  1. True beauty through music. You've just made my love of opera leap and bound happily. Thank you.

  2. You are my kinda nerd, this is just what I needed :) We didn't buy season tickets to the opera this year so I'm a bit bummed about that. The combination of natural talent and disciplined artistry these ladies had/have is so very rarely seen these days.

  3. Does anyone know the names of more black female opera singers?

  4. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Who_are_well-known_Black_female_opera_singers

    Thats a great list of them

  5. @ GoddessMaverick

    Oooooh - gracias!!!

  6. Angela Brown is a lesser-known (but still quite successful) personal favorite of mine.

  7. Ankhesen Mié said...
    Does anyone know the names of more black female opera singers?

    This one should be familiar to many. It’s absolutely beautiful. Canzonetta sull'aria - Kathleen Battle & Carol Vaness (Le nozze di Figaro Met'85)

  8. Now granted, Mahalia Jackson didn't sing Opera; but to many people my age and older she was quintessentially regarded as, The Queen of Gospel.

    I've watched Imitation of Life enough times to know that when I do its prudent to drink Gatorade at least an hour before viewing; considering the water one loses through weeping. There was none like her in this regard.

  9. Great post. In fact I did a graphic design project featuring Jessye Norman.

  10. Jessye's voice is uplifting and energizing. Leontyne's voice is enthralling and her performance is quite mesmerizing (she is simply too fine for her own good. I mean damn).

    But Marianne...her performance of "Death and the Maiden" almost reduced me to tears within mere seconds of hearing her voice.

  11. Hello Ankh!

    I would like you to check out the beautiful and talented Grace Brumby.

    She makes mt hair stand on end with 'Habanera' from 'Carmen':


    Check her double performance in 'Aida' where she is main character as well as the queen.


    Isn't she stunning?

  12. @ Anonymous

    Thanks for stopping by. Leave names so I know whom to thank for info like this!!!

  13. No problem. I go by Ddre, but i do not have any accounts to choose from in the profile section for commenting. What i will do is leave my signature.

    Love your blog, btw.

  14. Jeanine De Bique, Soprano. She came to the Mondavi Center last year. I missed her and I really regret it.


  15. Thank you! I especially loved the Leontyne Price video.

    Denyce Graves is mezzo. I like this performance of hers: http://youtu.be/NbF5NACL6YE

  16. Folks, I just realized that the glorious songbird who sings the "Lovers" theme in House of Flying Daggers is Kathleen Battle.

    Peep this:



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