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MARCH 17, 1907 - NOVEMBER 15, 1960

Ellabelle Davis was born and raised in New Rochelle, NY, sang in her church choir and performed recitals accompanied by her sister on the piano. She first worked as a seamstress; a customer heard her sing and offered to pay for voice lessons. She began performing in New York City in 1940, billed as a soloist with the Naumberg Orchestral Concerts in Central Park in that year. She also appeared in a concert performance of Aïda at the Museum of Modern Art in 1941 and debuted at Town Hall in 1942. Beginning in 1946 she toured extensively, appearing with orchestras, opera companies, and in festivals in the United States, and taking advantage of the more accessible stages of Central America, Scandinavia, Europe and Israel. She became the first Black singer to perform with the Opera Nacional in Mexico City when she performed the role of Aïda in 1946; she made her Teatro alla Scala debut in the same role in 1949.

In 1947 Ms. Davis was named the Outstanding American Singer of the year by the League of Composers; the organization commissioned Lukas Foss to write “The Song of Songs” for her. The Boston Symphony premiered the work under the baton of Serge Koussevitzky. In 2009 an opera based on her life, The Gentle Lark of New Rochelle, premiered in her hometown, and in 2011 the city inducted her into the New Rochelle Walk of Fame.


Video Credit: WOSU Public Media

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