Trailblazing African-American Soprano Camilla Williams Dies

Above: A documentary of the life of Camilla Williams, produced by Richard Glazier for a 2009 New York City Opera salute to Williams.

Soprano Camilla Williams, the first African-American woman to sing a leading role at a major U.S. opera house, died Sunday at her home in Bloomington, Ind., according to the Associated Press. She was 92.

From humble beginnings in her native Danville, Va., Williams rose to international prominence for her interpretation of the role of Cio-Cio-San in the New York City Opera’s 1946 production of Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Williams’ Butterfly performances took place nine years before African-American contralto Marian Anderson’s Metropolitan Opera debut.

Williams garnered many other significant “firsts” in her long career as performer and teacher. She was selected to sing the role of Bess in the first complete recording of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and she would become the first African-American woman to serve on the faculty of the Prestigious Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

As we celebrate Black History Month this month, hear Williams sing and learn more about her spectacular life in the video above, produced by Richard Glazier for a 2009 New York City Opera salute to Williams.

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