Born in St. Louis, Grace Bumbry decided she had to be a singer after her mother took her to a concert by trailblazing African American soprano Marian Anderson. Despite achieving many accomplishments at a young age, Bumbry was denied entry to the local music academy because of her race.
She attended a university in Boston and then Northwestern. There, she took part in a master class with legendary opera singer Lotte Lehmann, who invited Bumbry to study with her and eventually became a mentor.
Bumbry would later become a joint winner of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera auditions in 1958 and made her operatic debut in Paris in 1960. She was the first Black singer to perform at the Bayreuth Opera Festival, despite racist objections to the proposed appearance of a Black singer in the world’s most famous Wagner festival. Ultimately, her singing caused a sensation and earned her 42 curtain calls. After that, Bumbry’s fame was worldwide.
Bumbry retired from the opera stage in 1997 but continued to sing cameo roles and in concert into her 70s. She died in early May at 86.
Host: Vernon Neal
Producer: Dan Nass
Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship
Executive Producer: Julie Amacher
Love the music?
Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.
Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.
YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.