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Thu, 01.22.1920

William Warfield, Baritone Vocalist born

William Warfield

*On this date, William Warfield was born in 1920. He was a Black Vocalist.

Warfield was the eldest of five sons from West Helene, Arkansas. While very young, his father, Robert, moved the family to Rochester, New York seeking better educational and employment opportunities. While in high school, Warfield entered the regional auditions of the National Music Educators League Competition and the National Finals later that year in St. Louis, winning both.

Warfield attended the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester, earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, and, after four years in the military, returned to Eastman to study for his Masters. During this time, Warfield sang lead in the national touring company of the Broadway hit Call Me Mister, other members of that cast were Buddy Hackett, Carl Reiner, and Robert Fosse.  He sang at countless concerts, recitals, and soloist appearances, with many impressive honors and awards for his contributions. Warfield made six separate tours for the US Department of State, more than any other American solo artist.

His recital debut in New York's Town Hall in 1950 put him into the front ranks of concert artists. That historic debut was celebrated in 1975 at Carnegie Hall for its 25th anniversary culminating in a Warfield recital for the benefit of the Duke Ellington Center.  Through the years, critics have seen Warfield's superiority stemming from his unusual ability as an actor, which he has proven often in singing roles as well as those merely spoken.  His most famous role is the title role in George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess.

Warfield received many honors and awards, including an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Arkansas in 1972, Lafayette University (Easton, PA) in 1977, Boston University in 1982, Augustana College, Illinois, 1983 James Milliken University in 1984.  For many years, he dedicated time and devotion to the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM). In March 1984, he was the winner of a Grammy in the "Spoken Word" category for his outstanding narration of Aaron Copeland's A Lincoln Portrait, accompanied by the Eastman Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1994, he was a professor at Northwestern University.

In 1996, live presentations of Showboat and, in 1997, Harlem Rhapsody were added to the JCJB/Warfield touring schedule. It is not an exaggeration to say that he was to become one of America's artistic greats.  William Warfield died in September 2002 from complications of a neck injury from a fall.

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