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*Martina Arroyo was born on this date in 1936. She is an Afro Puerto Rican operatic soprano and educator.
She was born in New York City, the younger of two children of Demetrio Arroyo, originally from Puerto Rico, and Lucille Washington, a native of Charleston, South Carolina. Her older brother is a Baptist minister. The family lived in Harlem near St. Nicholas Avenue and 111th Street. Her father was a mechanical engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and earned a good salary which enabled Arroyo's mother to stay at home with their children. His job also allowed the family to experience New York's cultural offerings and attending several performances of Broadway shows during the 1940s first inspired Arroyo's interest in becoming a performer. Her mother was also an amateur classical pianist and taught her to play the instrument and to take ballet classes.
After finishing high school in 1953, Arroyo attended Hunter College where she earned a B.A. in Romance languages in 1956. After graduating from college, Arroyo was faced with the difficulty of working while trying to study singing. On the advice of her mother, she became an English teacher at Bronx High School in the Fall of 1956 but found it difficult to balance her teaching responsibilities with continued training under Gurewich. She decided to leave her teaching position and take work as a social worker at the East End Welfare Center. For two years, she managed a case load of over 100 welfare recipients while continuing her voice training. Arroyo found the work fulfilling and stated of the experience, "My life had been centered on music for so long, and suddenly there I was, deeply involved in other people's problems,"
In 1957 Arroyo auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera but was not accepted. Somewhat disheartened, she flirted with the idea of becoming an academic and began working on a master's degree in comparative literature at New York University with a dissertation on Ignacio Silone's Pane e Vino and Vino e Pane. The following year she competed in and won the Metropolitan Opera's Audition of the Air competition (precursor to its National Council Auditions), earning a $1,000 cash prize and a scholarship to the Met's Kathryn Long School. She left NYU and entered the Kathryn Long School in the Fall of 1957 where she studied singing, drama, German, English diction, and fencing.
While at the school, she was offered the role of the first coryphée in the American premiere of Ildebrando Pizzetti's Murder in the Cathedral to be performed at a festival in upstate New York in September 1958. This marked Arroyo's first professional appearance singing in an opera. In 1959 Arroyo sang the title role in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride in a concert version with the Little Orchestra Society at Town Hall. Shortly thereafter she made her debut on the opera stage at the Metropolitan Opera as the Celestial Voice in Giuseppe Verdi's Don Carlo.
This was the beginning of a long association with the Met and the beginning of a lengthy career on the opera stage. Arroyo first rose to prominence at the Zurich Opera between 1963–1965, and then was one of the Metropolitan Opera's leading sopranos between 1965 and 1978. During her 13 years at the Metropolitan Opera, she was also a regular presence at the world's opera houses. In 1976, she was appointed to the National Council of the Arts in Washington, D.C. She founded the Martina Arroyo Foundation, which is dedicated to the development of emerging young opera singers by immersing them in complete role preparation courses. She is also active on the Boards of Trustees of Hunter College and Carnegie Hall.
She is best known for her performances of the Italian spinto repertoire, and in particular, her portrayals of Verdi and Puccini heroines. Since her official retirement from singing in 1989 Arroyo has amassed significant teaching credits, including stints at Louisiana State University, UCLA, University of Delaware, Wilberforce University, the International Sommerakademie-Mozarteum in Salzburg and Indiana University. She is part of the first generation of Afro Puerto Rican opera singers to achieve wide success and is viewed as part of an instrumental group of performers who helped break down the barriers of racial prejudice in the opera world.
Her last opera performance was in 1991, after which she has judged several competitions including the George London Competition and the Tchaikovsky International Competition. With Willard L. Boyd, former President of the University of Iowa, she co-authored the "Task Force Report on Music Education in the U.S." She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000. She was candid about her perceived status as second-best to her great contemporary, fellow spinto Leontyne Price; once, when a Met doorman greeted her as "Miss Price," she sweetly replied, "No, honey, I'm the other one." On December 8, 2013, Arroyo received a Kennedy Center Honor.