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*Harolyn Blackwell was born on this fate in 1955. She is a Black lyric coloratura soprano and educator.
Blackwell was born in Washington, D.C., the eldest of five children. Her parents were teachers and active participants in the Civil Rights Movement. Her father, Harold Blackwell (for whom she was named) was also a redevelopment specialist with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C. and her mother taught physical education and health at the University of the District of Columbia.
Blackwell first became interested in music through the influence of her fourth-grade teacher, Nancy Notargiacomo, who became her voice and piano teacher when she was 10. She also credits her high school choral director for encouraging her to pursue a music career. In high school, she started doing musicals-The Sound of Music, Brigadoon, Oliver!, and others though she wanted to go into history or fashion design. Blackwell attended Catholic University, where she majored in vocal music education and also spent time in activities and classes related to the University's drama and musical theater programs.
After graduating with her undergraduate degree in 1977, Blackwell taught music in two parochial schools while continuing her vocal studies at the graduate level at Catholic University. She graduated with a Masters's in Vocal Performance in 1980. In 1979, while preparing a recital program for her master's degree, Blackwell auditioned for the Broadway revival of West Side Story.
Impressed with her audition, Leonard Bernstein hand-picked her for the role of Francisca and the understudy for Maria in the 1980 revival. In 1981, she auditioned for and was accepted into the Chicago Lyric Opera young artist programs. After singing with the company in small parts for a year, Blackwell left the program and moved back to New York to study vocal technique with Shirley Emmons. She went on to win the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1983. Following her win, Blackwell continued her apprenticeship at the Lyric Opera of Chicago for a year.
In 1987 she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Poussette in Manon. In 1989 Blackwell performed and recorded the role of Clara in a critically acclaimed production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. The recording won a Grammy Award, and Blackwell performed the aria "Summertime" at the 1990 Grammy Awards. In 1991, Blackwell made her debut with the San Francisco Opera as Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni.
That same year she gave a highly praised performance as Oscar in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera with the Metropolitan Opera opposite Luciano Pavarotti. The performance was videotaped and subsequently aired on PBS's Great Performances. Blackwell appeared on Great Performances again in 1993 in the concert Sondheim — A Celebration at Carnegie Hall, where she performed music from Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.
In 1994 she replaced Kathleen Battle as Marie in La fille du régiment at the Metropolitan Opera for the entire run when Battle was fired from the production for unprofessional conduct. In the mid-1990s, Blackwell began to sing almost exclusively lyric coloratura roles. Instrumental in boosting her profile within this repertoire was Seattle Opera under the direction of Speight Jenkins. In 1997 she returned to Broadway to star as Cunegonde in Bernstein's Candide. Blackwell had also previously recorded several other works by Bernstein the year before on her solo album Blackwell Sings Bernstein, which was released on the RCA label. The album features a guest performance by Vanessa L. Williams as Anita in selections from West Side Story.
In 1999 Blackwell was invited to perform at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II's 80th birthday. In 2002, she became an adjunct faculty member at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She taught master's classes at the school for four years. Blackwell has also been invited as a guest instructor at several universities and conservatories throughout the United States. From 2002-2003 she toured the United States, giving concerts with Florence Quiver. She has also performed for several notable figures.
In 2006, she performed a concert in honor of the Dance Theatre of Harlem at the White House. Other major national and international opera companies and festivals that Blackwell has performed with include: the Washington National Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Aix-en-Provence Festival, Opera Orchestra of New York, and New York's Mostly Mozart Festival, among others. She currently teaches in the voice faculties of Barnard College and New York University.