Trailblazing opera star Grace Bumbry has died : NPR


Grace Bumbry, in a 1963 portrait.

Erich Auerbach/Getty Pictures

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Erich Auerbach/Getty Pictures

Grace Bumbry, in a 1963 portrait.

Erich Auerbach/Getty Pictures

Opera star Grace Bumbry has died on the age of 86. The celebrated singer, who led an illustrious, jet-setting profession, broke the colour barrier as the primary Black artist to carry out at Germany’s Bayreuth Competition.

Bumbry died Could 7 in a Vienna hospital, in line with her publicist. She suffered an ischemic stroke final yr and by no means absolutely recovered.

Bumbry was a part of a pioneering technology of Black ladies opera stars that included Leontyne Value, Shirley Verrett and Jessye Norman, all of whom adopted the trail blazed by Marian Anderson.

As a baby, Bumbry was taken by her mom to see Anderson carry out in her hometown, St. Louis. It was an occasion that modified her life, she informed NPR in 1990.

“I knew I needed to be a singer,” Bumbry mentioned. “I studied piano from age 7 till I used to be 15 however I needed to…critically turn out to be a singer of classical music.” At age 17, Bumbry sang for Anderson, who was impressed sufficient to really useful the younger singer to her high-powered supervisor, Sol Hurok.

In 1954, {the teenager} received a radio expertise competitors and a scholarship to check on the St. Louis Institute of Music. However as a result of the college was segregated, Bumbry was not allowed to take lessons with white college students, which Bumbry’s mom declined. Later, after she appeared on Arthur Godfrey’s Expertise Scouts, gives from colleges flooded in. Bumbry enrolled at Boston College, later transferring to Northwestern College and eventually shifting to California to check with the legendary German soprano Lotte Lehmann on the Music Academy of the West.

Bumbry’s operatic debut got here in 1960, in no much less a venue than the storied Paris Opera, the place she sang the position of Amneris in Verdi’s Aida. Her Parisian success got here, partly, by the assistance of Jacqueline Kennedy who, with the American Embassy in Paris, secured Bumbry an audition on the Opera.

Her triumph opened the doorways to Germany’s Bayreuth Competition. In 1961, Bumbry grew to become the primary Black artist to sing on the non secular residence of Richard Wagner, performing the position of Venus within the composer’s Tannhäuser. Casting a Black American as a substitute of a Nordic blonde on the famend pageant was met with skepticism and racism from opera purists and the German media.

Bumbry ignored the controversy. On the manufacturing’s opening night time, her efficiency was met with a 30-minute standing ovation and 42 curtain calls. Critics hailed her because the “Black Venus.”

However after nice success as a mezzo-soprano, particularly in operas by Verdi, Grace Bumbry shocked the opera world by committing to singing principally as a soprano within the Seventies.

“I feel I am the one singer ever in historical past to have made a profession as a number one mezzo-soprano and impulsively, in midstream, change to soprano,” Bumbry informed NPR in 1990.

Over the remainder of her 60-year profession, Bumbry would toggle between each ranges, says Naomi André, a music professor on the College of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“She sang between roles that one individual usually does not sing,” André observes. “Her voice had this unbelievable easy creaminess and energy in locations that you simply would not at all times count on in the identical voice. An extremely attractive sound.”

A stunning sound that was additionally a summoning for the subsequent technology of Black singers and performers.


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