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Brief Bio geared toward the general public:
Leontyne Price, born Mary Violet Leontyne Price on February 10, 1927 in Laurel, Mississippi is an operatic soprano, who made her début at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on January 27, 1961, following in the footsteps of Marian Anderson, who was the first black woman to sing at the Met on January 7, 1955. Ms. Price was the first black woman to become a season’s leading artist with the Metropolitan Opera. In 1959, after hearing her in Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore Met General Manager Rudolf Bing invited her to join the Met company in the 1960–61 season. Her 1961 Met début in Il Trovatore received a 42 minute standing ovation; Italian tenor Franco Corelli also made his Met début alongside Ms. Price that evening. On September 16, 1966, she was La Prima Donna for the newly constructed Metropolitan Opera House, making her the first women, black or white, to open the new Met at Lincoln Center. She played the role of “Cleopatra” in Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra; Puerto Rican bass-baritone Justino Díaz played “Antony.”
A graduate of New York’s Juilliard School, her first major role was as Alice Ford in a 1952 Juilliard Falstaff, a performance that directly led to her Broadway stage debut as St. Cecelia in the revival of Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts on April 16, 1952 (it closed April 27, 1952 after 15 performances); the vast cast included Arthur Mitchell, Betty Allen, Billie Allen, Gloria Davy, Martha Flowers, Inez Matthews, and Leontyne Price, to name a few. That same year she starred as Bess in the 1952 tour of Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin; the tour included the Stoll Theatre in London. She was praised for her role in the American opera. Her then husband bass-baritone William Warfield played Porgy. Porgy and Bess arrived on Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theatre on March 10, 1953 and ran to November 28, 1953, after 305 performances. Ms. Price, now in great demand, was the first black woman to sing opera on television in the United States of America; it aired on NBC-TV Opera Theatre; she was paired with Italian-American tenor David Poleri in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca on January 23, 1955, it was interracial, enraging many NBC-TV Southern state affiliates who refused to air the opera, cancelling Southern broadcasts; it was followed by the role of “Pamina” in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute/La Flauta Magica) with William Lewis, also interracial, on January 15, 1956. She returned for two more NBC Opera broadcasts as “Madame Lidoine” in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites on December 8, 1957, and “Donna Anna” in Mozart’s Don Giovanni on April 26, 1960. Throughout her career she refused to sing for segregated audiences in the South. On May 30, 1957 she was televised in a 35-minute live recital documentary, as herself, directly from Sydney Town Hall in Australia. She made numerous television appearances in programs such as What’s My Line?, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Bell Telephone Hour. Ms. Price is world renowned soprano who sang in every single major opera house in the world; from Milan, Italy’s Teatro alla Scala to London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; her countless festivals include Salzburg. Ms. Price sang for several US Presidents including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the inauguration of Lyndon B. Johnson on January 20, 1965, LBJ’s funeral, President Jimmy Carter at the White House on October 8, 1978, and others.
After Ms. Price sang 204 performances with the Met, on January 3, 1985, the Metropolitan Opera billed the program as Leontyne Price’s Farewell to Opera in Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. It was her final professional opera performance; appropriately sung at the Met. In 2007, PBS viewers voted her farewell performance of the aria, “O patria mia”, as the No. 1 “Great Moment” from the Live from the Met telecasts. The aria ends with a graceful and emotional ovation. After 1985, she continued to give recitals, performances, and master classes. Leontyne Price has received countless awards and accolades including The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964; the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1965; won two Emmy Awards out of her three nominations; the Kennedy Center Honors in 1980; the National Medal of Arts in 1985; Oprah Legend in 2005; received Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (French Order of Arts and Letters), received Ordine al merito della Repubblica Italiana (The Order of Merit of the Italian Republic), and on October 31, 2008, she was one of the recipients of the first Opera Honors given by the National Endowment for the Arts. She has earned 19 Grammy Awards, the most Grammy Awards by a Classical Music singer this includes a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. Leontyne Price is undeniably the most accomplished black woman in opera history, and known as “The Voice of the Century.”
Leontyne Price has won 19 Grammy Awards, more than any other classical singer. 13 Grammy Awards for solo operatic and/or song recitals, 5 Grammys for full operas, and a special Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. Please note when an opera wins a Grammy Award, the principle artist is awarded as well.