When we think of black performers, our minds tend to travel towards the “regular” genres.
There’s hip hop, R&B, and gospel.
What about opera?
Many of our minds tend to skip over black opera singers, but there are quite a few, past and present, who have revolutionized the musical stylings.
They have performed all over the world, making their mark as black voices at the Met among many other opera houses.
From legends like Marian Anderson to newcomers like Pumeza Matshikiza, these are the best voices in black opera.
Black Female Opera Singers
First up, we have the mezzo soprano, J’Nai Bridges.
She’s been reviewed by renowned publications like The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
Bridges has had a number of impressive performances including her debut with the Metropolitan Opera where she starred as Nefertiti.
While she has many theatrical performances, she continues to use her vocal talents within the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
One of her most recent performances was as Delilah in Saint-Saens’s Samson and Delilah.
When Janai Brugger began her college career, she knew her future was in music.
While earning a Bachelor of Music from DePaul University, she performed in many productions including Dido and Aeneas and Carmen.
After winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, she would make her 2012 with the Metropolitan Opera in Turandot.
Since then, she has starred in Romeo et Juliette, Carmen, and The Enchanted Island.
If you’re looking for someone who made history in the world of opera, it’s Camilla Williams.
The late singer was born in 1919 in Danville, Virginia.
She left Virginia to study music in New York City, and it was after this that she would make history.
She became the first black person to gain a contract with a major American opera company.
After joining the New York City Opera, she would also become the first black person to have a major role with the Vienna State Opera.
She was honored a number of times throughout her life including receiving the President’s Medal for Excellence by Indiana University.
Her autobiography, The Life of Camilla Williams, African American Classical Singer was published in 2011, just a few months before her passing in 2012.
Opera is international and so is our next soprano.
Pretty Yende is an opera singer that hails from South Africa.
After recognizing her desire to pursue music, she went to the South African College of Music before graduating from the Accademia Teatro alla Scala opera house in Milan.
She won a number of international competitions before the roles started rolling in for her.
Pretty Yende has performed in the following operas: La boheme, The Marriage of Figaro, and The Barber of Seville.
In 2013, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Adele in Le comte Ory.
While many work a number of years to get their names recognized by the Metropolitan Opera, Tichina Vaughn already had an early introduction.
She was an early member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.
Subsequently, she was receiving her degree from the University of North Carolina School of Arts.
Vaughn has even received the coveted Metropolitan Opera National Council Award among others.
Her list of roles is long with performances in Hansel and Gretel, Aida, and Siegfried.
Similar to a number of other performers on this list, when she’s not on stage, Tichina lends her voice to symphony orchestras.
Camilla Williams isn’t the only performer on this list who has made history.
While Camilla Williams is the first black person to gain a contract with a major opera company, Leontyne Price was the first to become a leading performer at the Metropolitan Opera.
With a love of music that began while she was a toddler, she spent her youth focusing on her craft.
In her 20s, she began performing with Juilliard’s Opera Workshop and her career would take off from there.
Leontyne Price appeared in a number of NBC Opera Theater broadcasts before traveling all over the country for concerts.
She even performed at both the inauguration and funeral of the U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In one of her most memorable roles as Aida, she said goodbye to opera in 1985.
If you can get praises from Placido Domingo, you’re well on your way.
An internationally renowned opera singer, Domingo describes Angel Blue as “the next Leontyne Price.”
While many are singing her praises, she’s singing as a soprano.
Prior to the start of her career, she attended the University of Redlands to receive a Bachelor of Music before getting her Master of Music degree from UCLA.
Angel Blue has performed all over the world from The Staples Center in Los Angeles to the Seoul Arts Center in South Korea.
She has performed in operas like La boheme, Carmen, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Taylor Raven is relatively new to the world of opera, but she’s already making a name for herself.
While getting her Bachelor of Music degree from the University of North Carolina, starred in plays like La clemenza di Tito, Dream Lovers, and Les contes d’Hoffman.
Afterwards, she would go on to earn her Master of Music degree at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
More recently, she joined the Pittsburgh Opera where she’s performed as Oronte in Richard the Lionheart and Hannah in As One.
There might not be anyone in the world of opera who is as recognized as Marian Anderson.
Born at the end of the 1800s, she helped pave the way for black opera singers and black performers in general.
While many of the singers on this list would go on to become performers, Marian Anderson turned down numerous roles because she didn’t boast to be an actress as well.
After the Daughters of the American Revolution didn’t allow her to sing in Constitution Hall, then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had Anderson perform on Easter Sunday in 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
She would also become the first black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955.
Another pioneer in opera is Grace Bumbry.
‘She came from humble beginnings.
After attending Charles Sumner High school, the first black high school west of the Mississippi, she won a talent competition that would help launch her career.
The prize included a scholarship to the St. Louis Institute of Music, but when the school rejected her because she was black, the contest promoters got her a spot on the show Talent Scouts.
This would lead to her studying at the Boston University College of Fine Arts before transferring to Northwestern University.
Her illustrious career has highlights that include winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and singing at the White House for Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
Another opera singer hailing from South Africa, Vuvu Mpofu’s love of music began with her family.
With a family that loved to sing, Vuvu joined choirs early on in her childhood.
After discovering that she loved opera, she set out to learn more about the music.
Needing to convince her mother that she could turn her singing into a career, she invited her mother to a performance that helped solidify her support.
She would then attend the University of Cape Town which would help launch her career.
Vuvu has since won the Operalia Competition and the Hans Gabor Singing Competition.
Another pioneer in opera, Dorothy Maynor really began her musical career when she received a four-year scholarship to the Westminster Choir School.
She would later gain the attention of the conductor for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
After moving to New York to hone her craft, she traveled around North America, South America, and Europe performing.
She even became the first black person to sing at a presidential inauguration, a performance she did for Harry S. Truman and later again for Eisenhower.
Dorothy Maynor would later go on to found the Harlem School of Arts.
South Africa is clearly making a name for itself in opera with another amazing singer.
Pumeza Matshikiza began her musical career with her attendance at the University of Cape Town College of Music.
She would then go on to attend the Royal College of Music in London as well.
The singer has appeared in performances of La boheme, Carmen, and Le nozze di Figaro.
Since then, she has packaged her voice for the masses.
In 2014, she released her debut album Voice of Hope and has since released her most recent album in 2016 – Arias.
Black Male Opera Singers
Simon Estes was making waves in the 1960s at the height of his career.
When it came time for important international figures to find a singer, they would look to this Simon Estes and his bass-baritone voice.
He has performed for political figures like Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and Desmond Tutu as well as with a number of opera houses like La Scala, the Vienna State Opera, and Zurich Opera.
The musical style of Russell Thomas’s tenor voice has been praised by Opera Magazine and The New York Times.
He is another who was a part of the young artist program at the Metropolitan Opera before going on to appear in performances that include La forza del destino and Otello.
Eric Owens is another bass-baritone on this list.
With an early education of music and the piano,Owens would go on to attend music schools until he entered Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance.
He would then make debuts at the San Francisco Opera, Royal Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera.
He has even won two Grammy Awards in 2011 and 2012 for Best Opera Recording.
Soloman Howard is a relatively new voice in the opera world.
Even so, he has already performed on some of the world’s biggest opera stages.While his voice has graced audiences at the Los Angeles Opera and Washington National Opera, he more recently performed as The King in Aida at the Metropolitan Opera.
George Shirley is another classic opera singer who has paved the way for others.
This singing tenor earned a Bachelor of Music Education from Wayne State University.
After serving in the Army, he would return to continue his music career.
While he also served as an educator, Shirley was the first black tenor at the Metropolitan Opera where he sang for 11 seasons.
His voice isn’t the only instrument he has at his disposal.
Lawrence Brownlee began playing the piano, drums, and bass when he was younger.
He is another one of the singers on this list who won at the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.
As a member of the black fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, he has performed all over the world in Italy, England, Germany, France, and more.
Noah Stewart is another new, but big name on this list.
Born in Harlem, he attended a performing arts high school before winning a scholarship to Juilliard.
Since then, he joined the Metropolitan Opera and has performed all around the country.
In 2012, he put out an eponymous album which did well in the UK.
Hailing from Norfolk, Virginia, Frederick Ballentine already has a great background in music.
He is a recent graduate of the Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.
More recently, the tenor made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in the 2019-2020 season in Porgy and Bass.
Sir Willard Wentworth White
This list is taking us into more international waters with Jamaican-born Willard White.
After being discovered by the wife of a conductor, he won a scholarship to Juilliard before debuting with their opera in 1971.
He has since performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Royal Opera House.
Ryan Speedo Green
Ryan Speedo Green earned a Bachelor of Music degree from the Hartt School of Music before receiving a Master of Music degree from Florida State University.
Since then, he has received numerous honors and won many awards.
He has starred in a number of performances that include The King in Aida and Lodovico in Otello.
John Holiday got his start in a church choir at the young age of 2.
After singing in choirs for most of his life, he went to Southern Methodist University where he earned a Bachelor of Music degree.
Since then, he has been accepted into programs by the Sante Fe Opera and Juilliard before performing at the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and more.
Last, but not least, on the list we have bass singer, Morris Robinson.
While he started out as a football player, he would go on to become a world renowned opera singer.
He has since performed at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, and the Sydney Opera House.
He is also the first black artist to sign with a major classical record label.
Best Black Opera Singers Conclusion
As with any musical genre, opera can be an acquired taste.
Regardless, it’s clear that all of these singers are extremely talented.
From legends like Marian Anderson and Simon Estes to newcomers Pumeza Matshikiza and Frederick Ballentine, black singers have been and continue to make names for themselves in opera.