top of page


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.



Video Credit: Visit Danville VA

1050 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste. 500

Washington, DC 20035

1740 Broadway, 15th floor

NYC, NY 10019


© 2023 The Denyce Graves Foundation

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Instagram

Our Federal tax ID is 86-2276658. 

The Denyce Graves Foundation is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. 



DGF is focused on the intersection of social justice, American history, and the arts. Deeply inspired by the achievements of America’s hidden musical figures, the foundation is invested in doing research and educating the public about their remarkable stories of courage and persistence. From enriching our musical heritage to preparing the diverse pool of tomorrow’s vocal stars, DGF will positively impact how artists are valued in this nation, encouraging inclusive opportunity, access, and advocacy for the next generation. Join our change-making efforts by supporting DGF with a donation today.

bottom of page