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George Shirley was born on this date in 1934. He is a Black concert vocalist, teacher, and lecturer.
When he was six, his family moved from Indianapolis, IN, to Detroit, MI. He attended Wayne State University in Detroit as a music education major; he received his degree in 1955. The following year he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was the first African American to be appointed to a high school teaching post in music in Detroit, the first African American member of the United States Army Chorus in Washington, D.C., and the first African American tenor and second African American male to sing leading roles with the Metropolitan Opera, where he remained for eleven years as a leading artist.
As a performer, he has won international acclaim for his engagements with the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera (Covent Garden), the Chicago Lyric, Netherlands, Scottish, San Francisco, New York City, and Michigan opera companies. A Professor of Voice at the University of Michigan, Shirley is one of America's most versatile tenors. Shirley joined Michigan's faculty in 1987. He is in great demand nationally and internationally as a performer, teacher, and lecturer. Since 1983 he has starred at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin; in 1988, he appeared with that company on its tour of Japan.
In 1990 he sang the roles of Pluton in Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld with the Deutsche Oper and of Schütze in the New York City premiere of Richard Strauss's Friedenstag with the Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall. Shirley has sung with many of the world's great orchestras and conductors-the London Symphony with Maazel, Boston Symphony with Ozawa, Chicago Symphony with Solti, New York Philharmonic with Bernstein, and La Scala Orchestra with von Karajan-and he has appeared at such summer festivals as Glyndebourne, Edinburgh, Spoleto, Santa Fe, and Aspen.
He has recorded for RCA, Columbia, Decca, CRI, Angel, Vanguard, and Philips Records and received a Grammy Award in 1968 for his role (Ferrando) in the prize-winning recording of Mozart's Così Fan Tutte. His solo performance with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was broadcast over CBS in July 1990.
Shirley has, in a career that spans 51 years, performed more than 80 operatic roles with many of the world's most renowned conductors (Solti, Klemperer, Stravinsky, Ormandy, von Karajan, Colin Davis, Böhm, Ozawa, Haitink, Boult, Leinsdorf, Boulez, DePriest, Krips, Cleva, Dorati, Pritchard, Bernstein, Maazel and others).
In 2015, Shirley received the National Medal of Arts, bestowed upon him by US President Obama. In 2016, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award during the National Opera Association's annual convention. Shirley was presented with the William Warfield Legacy Award in 2019 for his dedication to the advancement of African American classical vocalists and the legacy of William Warfield.
Library of Congress
101 Independence Avenue S.E.
Washington D.C. 20540
George I. Shirley
The Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished
University Professor of Music (Voice)
Director, Vocal Arts Division
School of Music
The University of Michigan