It’s Black History Month. And though I never need a special time or reason to appreciate or honor the contributions that POC have made to this country (and the world), I thought this would be a good time to share with you some of the black opera singers (specifically sopranos, because I am one!) that I love and admire and that have inspired me in my own musical journey!
Favorite Divas of the Past
- Kathleen Battle – “Ah! Mio Cor!” Hers was the voice that I listened to the most when I was a young vocal student in college. Since, like her, I also had a really light lyric voice with a decent coloratura, she was the perfect singer for me to gain inspiration from! She will forever be my favorite – her sweet, gorgeous, silvery, ethereal voice is what I imagine angels sound like. Her high notes just float like shimmering gossamer and the emotion she puts into every note in this aria grabs ahold of my heart and doesn’t let go until the very end. Side note- this was my go-to post-break-up aria!
- Jessye Norman – Probably one of the best recordings I have heard of the aria, “Dove Sono”, the late Miss Norman beautifully captures the yearning that the Countess Almaviva is feeling for her husband. Her voice, while gorgeous, warm, full, and creamy (like a decadent dessert) was quite unique, sometimes being referred to as a “falcon soprano” – which is a dramatic soprano with a strong lower register and a lighter upper register. It’s sad that the world lost such a beautiful soul and artist, but she will remain one of my favorite “classic” sopranos forever.
- Leontyne Price – Singing “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca, I can hear why Miss Price was my college voice teacher’s idol. Her rich, lush voice is so full of emotion and her artistry is just undeniable. She was classified as a lirico-spinto soprano with a 3.5-octave range and a technique so solid that she could sing pretty much any genre she felt like! But most notable is that she was the first Black American soprano to receive international acclaim! She also has 19 Grammy Awards under her belt and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.
Favorite Divas of the Present
- Pretty Yende – one of my absolute current favorite operatic sopranos, Miss Yende is not just a gorgeous voice – she’s also a gorgeous human. Her Instagram is full of uplifting and positive messages and you would never know that she is one of the most in-demand divas around! I chose this excerpt from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” because it’s one of my favorite bel canto pieces and she sings this just so perfectly! She definitely puts the beauty in beautiful singing! I love how her voice can be so rich and luscious and yet still so delicate and dulcet! Love, love love her!!
- Angel Blue – This mélodie by composer Franz Liszt is beautifully sung by Miss Blue. A former model and beauty queen, she has been dubbed by opera great, Placido Domingo as the next Leontyne Price! And it’s easy to see why – she has that same kind of smoky, lush middle register with a strong lower and a shining, agile upper register. And like Miss Price, she can sing other genres just as easily as she can opera.
- Janai Brugger – Her voice is simply divine! So even throughout, beautiful timbre, just the right amount of warmth and brightness and a shimmery vibrato that doesn’t wobble! She’s singing “Signore Ascolta” from Puccini’s Turandot. Brava, diva!
Marian Anderson – I may not have spent a lot of time listening to her recordings, as she’s not a true soprano so wouldn’t have looked for her to help me learn a piece, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect or admire her. I can’t mention inspiring black sopranos without giving a nod to the one who paved the way for all black performers. In 1939 when the Daughters of the American Revolution wouldn’t allow her to sing in Constitution Hall, then first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt invited her to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In 1955, she became the first black person to perform at the Met. This song is just so powerful, not just because of her voice, which is so compelling and regal, but because of what it meant at that moment. History was being made and it was ushered in by the sweet, dulcet sounds of a brave woman’s voice.
There are many more amazing black opera singers out there – many of whom I just recently discovered and haven’t had much time to spend listening to – maybe another post will be needed to share them with you! 😉
Who are your favorite black opera singers or singers in general? What about their voice or artistry touches and inspires you? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time,