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Video Credit: WOSU Public Media


1887 - JULY 2, 1938

Antoinette Smythe Garnes was an opera singer and concert soloist who performed Washington, D.C. to California. She was born in Detroit, attending Detroit Central High School, and studied at the Detroit Conservatory, Howard University (where she earned her Bachelor of Music degree in 1919), and the Chicago Musical College where she earned her Master of Music Degree in 1920 and became the first African American to win the Alexander Revell Diamond Medal. Her primary teacher was Edoardo Sacerdote.

Ms. Garnes appeared primarily as a recitalist. We have accounts of performances in Detroit, Wichita and California. Most of her recitals were sponsored by local women’s civics clubs, frequently benefitting local organizations and charities; she also sang for the national meeting of the NAACP in 1919. In Chicago she became the first and only Black performer with the Chicago Civic Opera Company (1923; later known as the Chicago Grand Opera Company) and became a member of the Chicago Opera Association. In that same year she recorded with Harry Pace’s Black Swan Records; the company promoted these recordings as the “first grand opera recordings ever made by a colored singer.” She taught voice at Lincoln University, Wilberforce University, and the Hampton Institute. She died of liver disease in Cape Girardeau, Missouri in 1938.



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