Mary Violet Leontyne Price in an American soprano, born and raised in Laurel, Mississipi. She rose to international acclaim in the 1950s and 1960s, and was the first African American to become a leading performer at the Metropolitan Opera, and one of the most popular American classical singers of her generation.
Time magazine called her voice Rich, supple and shining, it was in its prime capable of effortless soaring a smoky mezzo to the pure soprano gold of a perfectly spun high C.
A lirico spinto soprano, she was considered especially well suited for the heroines of Giuseppe Verdi’s “middle period” operas, such as: Aida, Il Trovatore, La Forze del Destino and Un Ballo in Maschera. She was also noted for her interpretations of leading roles in operas by Giacomo Puccini and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Her first contact with music was at the age of five, when she began piano lessons with a local teacher. At 14, she was taken on a school trip to hear Marian Anderson sing a recital, an experience she later said was inspirational: “the minute she came on stage, I knew I wanted to walk like that, look like that, and if possible, sound something near that”, she said in an interviewer in 2008.
In her second year, she heard Ljuba Welitsch sing Salome by Richard Strauss at the Metropolitan Opera House and became fascinated by opera. So, in 1950, she joined Julliard’s Opera Workshop and sang her first small roles in workshop performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Magic Flute (First Lady) and Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicci (Aunt Nella).
The door to opera opened through the NBC Opera Theatre, under music director Peter Hermen Adler. In January 1955, she sang the title role in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, the first appearance by an African American in a leading role in televised opera.
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