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FEBRUARY 20, 1908 - JUNE 26, 1943

Born in Pontotoc, Mississippi and educated at Rust College (a Historically Black College), Ohio State University and the Juilliard School (graduating in 1934), Ruby Elzy enjoyed a successful and varied career before she died in her early 30s. She was both a trained soprano and actress with credits including The Emperor Jones (1933) as Dolly and Birth of the Blues (1941). Elzy became one of the most acclaimed singers of her generation even though her career was just a decade long. She created the role of Serena in George Gershwin’s folk opera, Porgy and Bess, and performed it more than 800 times. Elzy sang the demanding aria “My Man’s Gone Now” at the 1937 Gershwin Memorial Concert, which took place at the Hollywood Bowl three months after the composer’s death. Harold Arlen chose Elzy to record the world premiere of his “Reverend Johnson’s Dream,” an original suite of Negro Spirituals. Just as Elzy was reaching the peak of her singing powers at age 35, she died following surgery to remove a benign tumor, before she would have sung her dream role as Verdi’s Aida. David E. Weaver, a biographer, produced a first-ever CD compilation of Elzy, featuring twenty rare recorded and broadcast performances entitled Ruby Elzy in Song, which was released on the Cambria label in 2006. Clips are available on YouTube.

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Video Credit: WOSU Public Media

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