OCTOBER 18, 1919 - JANUARY 29, 2012
Soprano Camilla Williams was a singer of many “firsts’’: the first African American woman to become a regular member of a major American opera company; the first African American professor of voice at Indiana University; and the first African American to sing a lead role with the Vienna State Opera. Williams’ debut at New York City Opera in the title role of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly received stupendous acclaim in 1946; it became her signature role. She toured extensively throughout Africa, Europe, southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand to glowing reviews. Williams graduated with honors from Virginia State College and studied voice with Marian Anderson’s teacher in Philadelphia. She won the Marian Anderson Prize for two consecutive years and sang with the National Negro Opera Company under Mary Cardwell Dawson. A strong advocate for civil rights, Williams sang the national anthem before a crowd of 200,000 in Washington, D.C., before Martin Luther King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech in 1963.
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