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William Franklin, (baritone) was born near Shaw, Mississippi and began singing in the church choir with his grandmother. After the family moved to Chicago, he attended Wendall Phillips High School where he sang in the Glee Club and played trombone in the school orchestra. He went on to graduate from the Chicago Conservatory of Music and performed several times in the trombone section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the WGN Symphony Orchestra. He remained based in Chicago and was represented by the Redpath Bureau office in that city. He began his professional career as a jazz singer and trombonist but switched to opera in the late 1930s. He sang Amonasro opposite La Julia Rhea’s Aïda in a benefit production by the Chicago Lyric Opera in the summer of 1937, and reprised the role for the initial performances of the National Negro Opera Company (NNOC) in 1941 and 1942. He sang in the NNOC performances of Verdi’s La Traviata in 1943-44 opposite Lillian Evanti. Through the 1940s he sang primarily in productions of the NNOC and in Gilbert and Sullivan productions in Chicago.


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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.

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