MARCH 19, 1921 - NOVEMBER 24, 2006
Twenty days after Marian Anderson made her ground-breaking Met début, baritone Robert McFerrin became the first African American man to sing with the Metropolitan Opera. His 1955 début as Amonasro in Verdi’s Aïda was deemed “flawless” and critics praised his beautiful voice, power, sensitivity, and nuanced acting. The following year, McFerrin became the first African American singer to perform a title role at the Met (Rigoletto). He subsequently broke the color barrier at the Teatro di San Carlo opera house in Naples, Italy, as well. McFerrin began his career singing gospel music but his repertoire quickly expanded to include opera, art song, and Negro spirituals. He performed with the National Negro Opera Company and, in the late 1940s, sang with the New York City Opera, as well as on Broadway. It is McFerrin’s voice singing the title role in the hard-to-find Samuel Goldwyn film of Porgy and Bess, starring Sidney Poitier. In 2003, McFerrin was honored by Opera America with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
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