Poster Grace Bumbry
American opera singer Grace Bumbry is shown in a 1963 portrait.
Erich Auerbach/Getty Images
Rhapsody in Black

Soprano Grace Bumbry challenged racial bias in the opera world

Rhapsody in Black - Grace Bumbry

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

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About Rhapsody in Black

Where we turn up the voices of Black artists in the world of classical music, with host Vernon Neal.

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About Rhapsody in Black