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Leontyne Price, 1963
*Leontyne Price was born on this date in 1927. She is a Black operatic singer.
From Laurel, Miss., Mary Violet Leontine Price was the daughter of James Anthony Price, a carpenter, and Kate Baker Price, a midwife with a lovely soprano voice. Both of Prices’ grandfathers were Methodist ministers in black churches of Mississippi. She sang in her church choir as a girl; but it was not until she graduated from Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio, that she sought a career as a singer. Financial aid provided by a friend, Elizabeth Chisholm of Laurel, helped her to study for four years at the Julliard School of Music in New York City, where she worked under the former concert singer Florence Page Kimball, who remained her coach in later years.
Her singing debut took place in April 1952, in a Broadway revival of Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts; this led to Ira Gershwin's choosing her to sing Bess in his revival of Porgy and Bess, which played in New York City for two years, from 1952 to 1954, and also toured the United States and Europe. The year 1955 saw her triumphant performance of the title role in the National Broadcasting Company's television production of Tosca, making her the first black to sing opera on television, and she sang leading roles in other operas on television in the next few years.
Her operatic stage debut did not take place until 1957, at the San Francisco Opera, where she sang each year until 1960. By that time she was one of the most popular lyric sopranos in the country and had also made triumphant appearances in Vienna in 1959 and at Milan's La Scala the next year, where an Italian critic who declared that Verdi would have found her the ideal Anda applauded her performance. Despite this great success, however, her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York was deferred until 1961, when she appeared there in the difficult role of Leonora in Il Trovatore.
After a brilliant performance she became one of the Met's leading sopranos. Later roles there included Cio-Cio-San in Madame Butterfly, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, and Liù in Turandot. She won several Grammy awards from the American Society of Recording Arts and Sciences. She was always conscious of her role as a pioneering black in opera and worked hard against racial prejudice, refusing what she considered inappropriate roles and investing her performances with dignity and grandeur. Leontyne Price retired from the stage in 1985.
The Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.