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Price, Leontyne

Leontyne Price

Opera singer

First Black International Opera Star

Collard Greens and Caviar

Midas Touch at Juilliard

Began Professional Career

Expanded Repertoire Abroad

Shone in Antony and Cleopatra

Later Focused on Recitals

Sources

When Leontyne Prices angelic voice trailed off that night at New Yorks Lincoln Center in 1985, signaling the end of her final performance of the title role in Verdis Aida a role that has become synonymous with her namethe ensuing applause that embraced the great divas farewell will forever echo, not only through the famed home of the Metropolitan Opera but through Prices heart as well. That moment, I was a sponge, and Ill have all that moisture the rest of my life, Price told Robert Jacobson of Opera News. I soaked that in. Its the most intense listening Ive ever done in my life. For a change,/listened. I have every vibration of that applause in my entire being until I die. I just will never recover from it. I will never receive that much love as long as I live, and I would be terribly selfish to expect that much ever again.

Seldom has an artist received applause that was so genuine and so deserved. After all, Price was 57 years old that evening, performing one of the most demanding roles in the repertoire, and yet her voice was as full as the day she first performed Aida in 1957 and literally set the standard for its perfection. But then Prices voice, her instrument, was so rare and special to her that she had taken great pains throughout her career to guard it from overuse, and to not destroy it performing roles that she thought she couldnt handle.

If the time was not right, or she didnt think she could handle a certain part, Price was known to reject the invitations of such great conductors as Herbert von Karajan, Rudolf Bing, or James Levine with the wave of a hand. For this, she became known in music circles as arrogant and difficult, but for the fiercely independent Price it was a matter of survival to be selective. The voice is so special, she told Opera News. You have to guard it with care, to let nothing disturb it, so you dont lose the bloom, dont let it fade, dont let the petals drop.

First Black International Opera Star

Whether she was known as the girl with the golden voice or the Stradivarius of singers, Price is, without question, one of the great operatic talents of all time. The fact that she was the first black singer to gain international stardom in opera, an art-form theretofore confined to the upper-class white society, signified a monumental stride not only for her own generation, but for those that came before and after her.

By the time her career was in full blossom, for example, it was no longer a shock to white audiences to see black singers performing roles traditionally thought of as white. In opera, the singing and the music are tantamount,

For the Record

Born February 10, 1927, in Laurel, MS; daughter of James and Kate (Baker) Price; married William C. Warfield (an opera singer), August 31, 1952 (divorced, 1973). Education: Central State College, Wilberforce, OH, B.A., 1949; attended the Juilliard School of Music, 194952; studied voice with Florence Page Kimball.

Professional opera singer, 195285. Made operatic debut in Four Saints in Three Acts, 1952; performed in the United States and Europe. Also performed as a soloist with symphony orchestras.

Awards: Recipient of numerous awards, including 13 Grammy Awards; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1965; Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the arts, 1980; first recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, 1985.

Addresses: Office c/o Columbia Artists Management, Inc., 165 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019. Other 1133 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.

and thanks to Price, black singers could now be judged solely on their artistic merit. And as the most successful heir of the great African-American vocal tradition, Prices achievements in opera can be seen as a justification for her lesser known but equally great predecessors, such as Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson.

Indeed, it was during an Anderson concert in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1936 that Mary Violet Leontyne Price, then just nine years old, first decided that she would dedicate her life to singing. From that day forward, she was driven to recreating the power and beauty which Anderson had brought to the stage. And with her 1985 retirement, Price has just as enthusiastically passed the torch to a new generation of young singers. You have no idea how wonderful it is to know you had a part in the exposure of some of the great, marvelous talent, she told Jacobson. I feel like a mother, a mother hen.

Collard Greens and Caviar

Though endowed with a miraculous talent, Price points to her own mother as the source of her common sense, which in no small way helped her to channel and safeguard that talent for such a long and glorious career. You need [common sense] as much as you need talent in the career, Robert, Price told Jacobson. Common sense, which means your own vibes, and qoinq with them. Im just homespun. I am still home spun. Its sort of down home, very country. I think of myself as a strange mixture of collard greens and caviar.

Price was born in Laurel, Mississippi, on February 10, 1927. Her father, James Price, worked in a sawmill, and her mother, Kate, brought in extra income as a midwife. Both parents were amateur musicians, and encouraged their daughter to play the piano and sing in the church choir at St. Pauls Methodist Church in Laurel. Price graduated from Oak Park High School in 1944, then left home for the College of Education and Industrial Arts (now Central State College) in Wilberforce, Ohio. There, she studied music education with the idea of becoming a music teacher, but her hopes of becoming an opera singer had not faded. When the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York offered her a four-year, full-tuition scholarship, Price leapt at the chance and arrived in the big city in 1949.

Midas Touch at Juilliard

With living expenses so high in New York City, Price for a time feared that she would have to follow the path of some of her friends and take a job singing in blues clubs and bars, which would have been a little like Michelangelo working as a housepainter. But Elizabeth Chisholm, a longtime family friend from Laurel, came to Prices rescue with generous patronage, and the young singer was free to study full-time under vocal coach Florence Page Kimball. It was simply the Midas touch from the instant I walked into Juilliard, Price told Opera News. I learned things about stage presence, presentation of your gifts, how to make up, how to do research, German diction, et cetera. From Kimball, she went on to add, Price learned the steely control which would allow her to perform at top voice over so many performances, to perform on your interest, not your capital. What she meant was, as in any walk of life, there should be something more to give.

Price thrived at Juilliard, and her role as Mistress Ford in a student production of Verdis Falstaff caught the eye of composer Virgil Thomson, who cast her in a revival of his opera Four Saints in Three Acts, Prices first professional experience. This in turn led to a two-year stint (1952 to 1954) with a revival of Gershwins Porgy and Bess, which toured the U.S. and Europe. During this time Price married her co-star in that opera, William C. Warfield. The marriage was a disappointment, however, and the two divorced in 1973 after years of separation.

Began Professional Career

In 1954 Price made her concert debut at New Yorks Town Hall, where she exhibited great skill with modern compositions; a magnetic performer, she enjoyed the concert format and continued to tour regularly throughout her career, much to the chagrin of opera purists. Fast becoming a darling of the New York critics, Price soon saw her career take off. In 1955 she appeared in Puccinis Tosca on NBC television, thus becoming the first black singer to perform opera on television. And she was so well received that she was invited back to appear on NBC telecasts of Mozarts Magic Flute (1956), Poulencs Dialogues of the Carmelites (1957), and Mozarts Don Giovanni (1960).

One of the most fruitful associations of Prices career began in 1957, when she was invited by conductor Kurt Herbert Adler (he had seen her performance in Tosca) to make her American operatic debut as Madame Lidoine in Dialogues of the Carmelites with the San Francisco Opera. In later years, San Francisco seemed to be the place where Price returned to challenge herself with new roles, thus expanding her repertoire.

In fact, Price first performed Aida thereunder quite unusual circumstances. The first Aida I did, period. anywhere, was on that stage, by accident, Price said in Opera News. Ive always threatened to give two wonderful medals to two wonderful colleagues who happened to have two wonderful appendectomies and gave me two wonderful opportunities to sing Aida. They are Antonietta Stella in San Francisco in 1957 and Anita Cerquetti at Covent Garden in 1958. The year I did Dialogues, Stella had an emergency appendectomy. Adler walked into the room and asked if I knew Aida. I told him yes, and I was on. I went through the score with Maestro Molinari-Pradelli, and I knew every single, solitary note and nuance. I had it ready to travel. After that Aida was definitely part of my repertoire. That was being in the right place at the right time.

Expanded Repertoire Abroad

In the following years, Price expanded her repertoire significantly on American soil, with such distinguished companies as the Chicago Lyric Opera and the American Opera Theater as well as the San Francisco Opera. She credits the great conductor Herbert von Karajan with introducing her to European audiences. Prices debut on that continent came at Viennas Staatsoper in 1958 as Pamina in Zauberflote, not in Aida as has been commonly written. Her second European performance was in Aida at the same theater, and she quickly forged a reputation in Europe with a string of appearances on such venerable stages as Londons Covent Garden, Veronas Arena, the Salzburg Festival, and Milans historic La Scala, where her Aida won the hearts of Verdis own countrymen.

Her international prominence now secure, Price returned home to make her debut at the mecca of American opera, New Yorks Metropolitan Opera, and thus began a long, often controversial, but always glorious association with that revered institution. Her Leonora in II Trovatore on January 27, 1961, brought a standing ovation of 42 minutes, the longest ever given at the Met. Over the next several years Price was a staple in Metropolitan productions. When the company moved its home to the impressive new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, director Rudolf Bing extended Price the ultimate honor of opening the house in the world premier of Samuel Barbers Antony and Cleopatra.

Shone in Antony and Cleopatra

Although the opera itself was not well received, Price was magnificent, having dedicated herself to the role with total commitment. Antony and Cleopatra was the event of the century, operatically speaking, Price told Opera News. I was there! I lived the life of a hermit for a year and a half, so as not to have a common cold. From the moment I was asked to do this, I simply did everything I possibly could to have it be right. I accepted that responsibility with the greatest happiness. This was the greatest challenge of my life.

Clearly on top of the opera world, Price appeared in 118 Metropolitan productions between 1961 and 1969, when she drastically cut back her appearances not only in New York but elsewhere. It was here that she began to strike some opera insiders as ungrateful, vindictive, and arrogant, but Price insists that she was merely protecting herself from overexposure. If I dont want to do something, I dont do itnothing against anyone or the institution, she told Jacobson. If you say yes to something that may not go, you are discardednot the people who asked you to do it. They have something else to do. You are part of a unit, and they need your expertise to make the unit better. The thing thats been misunderstood is that I dont give a lot of rhetoric before I say no. I just say no. It saves everybody time, and maybe because I dont give a reason, its taken in a negative way.

Later Focused on Recitals

In the 1970s Price drastically cut the number of opera appearances, preferring to focus instead on her first loverecitalsin which she enjoyed the challenge of creating several characters on stage in succession. Her career credits include countless recordings, many of them on the RCA label, which enjoyed an exclusive 20-year contract with the diva. She has won 13 Grammy Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the nations highest civilian award) in 1965, the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the arts in 1980, and the First National Medal of Arts. She has appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and she performed at the White House in 1978. Price has lived alone for years in a townhouse in New York Citys Greenwich Village.

Sources

Books

Baker, Theodore, Bakers Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Schirmer, 1984.

Hitchcock, H. Wiley, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, MacMillan, 1986.

Souther, Eileen, The Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians, Greenwood Press, 1982.

Periodicals

Opera News, July 1985; August 1985.

David Collins

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"Price, Leontyne." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Price, Leontyne 1927—

Leontyne Price 1927

Opera singer

At a Glance

Musical Studies

Began Professional Career

Achieved International Acclaim

Sources

When Leontyne Prices angelic voice trailed off that night at New Yorks Lincoln Center in 1985, signaling the end of her final performance of the title role in Verdis Aida a role that has become synonymous with her namethe ensuing applause that embraced the great divas farewell will forever echo, not only through the famed home of the Metropolitan Opera but through Prices heart as well. That moment, I was a sponge, and Ill have all that moisture the rest of my life, Price told Robert Jacobson of Opera News. I soaked that in. Its the most intense listening Ive ever done in my life. For a change, I listened. I have every vibration of that applause in my entire being until I die. I just will never recover from it. I will never receive that much love as long as I live, and I would be terribly selfish to expect that much ever again.

Seldom has an artist received applause that was so genuine and so deserved. After all, Price was 57 years old that evening, performing one of the most demanding roles in the repertoire, and yet her voice was as full as the day she first performed Aida in 1957 and literally set the standard for its perfection. But then Prices voice, her instrument, was so rare and special to her that she had taken great pains throughout her career to guard it from overuse, and to not destroy it performing roles that she thought she couldnt handle.

If the time was not right, or she didnt think she could handle a certain part, Price was known to reject the invitations of such great conductors as Herbert von Karajan, Rudolf Bing, or James Levine with the wave of a hand. For this, she became known in music circles as arrogant and difficult, but for the fiercely independent Price it was a matter of survival to be selective. The voice is so special, she told Opera News. You have to guard it with care, to let nothing disturb it, so you dont lose the bloom, dont let it fade, dont let the petals drop.

Whether she was known as the girl with the golden voice or the Stradivarius of singers, Price was, without question, one of the great operatic talents of all time. The fact that she was the first black singer to gain international stardom in opera, an art-form theretofore confined to the upper-class white society, signified a monumental stride not only for her own generation, but for those that came before and after her.

At a Glance

Born in Laurel, MS, February 10, 1927; daughter of James and Kate (Baker) Price; married William C. Warfield (an opera singer), August 31, 1952 (divorced, 1973). Education: Central State College, Wilberforce, Ohio, B.A., 1949; attended the Juilliard School of Music, 1949-52; studied voice with Florence Page Kimball.

Professional opera singer, 1952-85. Made operatic debut in Four Saints in Three Acts, 1952; performed in the United States and Europe. Also performed as a soloist and recitalist with symphony orchestras.

Awards: Recipient of numerous awards, including thirteen Grammy Awards; the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1965; the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the arts, 1980; and was the first recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, 1985.

Addresses: Office c/o Columbia Artists Management, Inc., 165 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019. Other 1133 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.

By the time her career was in full blossom, for example, it was no longer a shock to white audiences to see black singers performing roles traditionally thought of as white. In opera, the singing and the music are tantamount, and thanks to Price black singers could now be judged solely on their artistic merit. And as the most successful heir of the great African-American vocal tradition, Prices achievements in opera can be seen as a justification for her lesser known, but equally great, predecessors, such as Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson.

Indeed, it was during an Anderson concert in Jackson, Mississippi in 1936 that Mary Violent Leontyne Price, then just nine years-old, first decided that she would dedicate her life to singing. From that day forward, she was driven to recreating the power and beauty which Anderson had brought to the stage. And with her 1985 retirement, Price has just as enthusiastically passed the torch to a new generation of young singers. You have no idea how wonderful it is to know you had a part in the exposure of some of the great, marvelous talent, she told Jacobson. I feel like a mother, a mother hen.

Though endowed with a miraculous talent, Price points to her own mother as the source of her common sense, which in no small way helped her to channel and safeguard that talent for such a long and glorious career. You need [common sense] as much as you need talent in the career, Robert, Price told Jacobson. Common sense, which means your own vibes, and going with them. Im just homespun. I am still homespun. Its sort of down home, very country. I think of myself as a strange mixture of collard greens and caviar.

Musical Studies

Price was born in Laurel, Mississippi, on February 10, 1927. Her father, James Price, worked in a sawmill, and her mother, Kate, brought in extra income as a midwife. Both parents were amateur musicians, and encouraged their daughter to play the piano and sing in the church choir at St. Pauls Methodist Church in Laurel. Price graduated from Oak Park High School in 1944, then left home for the College of Education and Industrial Arts (now Central State College) in Wilberforce, Ohio. There, she studied music education with the idea of becoming a music teacher, but her hopes of becoming an opera singer had not faded. When the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York offered her a four-year, full-tuition scholarship, Price leapt at the chance and arrived in the big city in 1949.

With living expenses so high in New York City, Price for a time feared that she would have to follow the path of some of her friends and take a job singing in blues clubs and bars, which would have been a little like Michelangelo working as a housepainter. But Elizabeth Chisholm, a longtime family friend from Laurel, came to Prices rescue with generous patronage, and the young singer was free to study full-time under vocal coach Florence Page Kimball. It was simply the Midas touch from the instant I walked into Juilliard, Price told Opera News. I learned things about stage presence, presentation of your gifts, how to make up, how to do research, German diction, et cetera. From Kimball, she went on to add, Price learned the steely control which would allow her to perform at top voice over so many performances, to perform on your interest, not your capital. What she meant was, as in any walk of life, there should be something more to give.

Price thrived at Juilliard, and her role as Mistress Ford in a student production of Verdis Flastaff caught the eye of composer Virgil Thomson, who cast her in a revival of his opera Four Saints in Three Acts, Price first professional experience. This in turn led to a two-year stint (1952-54) with a revival of Gershwins Porgy and Bess, which toured the U.S. and Europe. During this time Price married her co-star in that opera, William C. Warfield.

The marriage was a disappointment, however, and the two divorced in 1973 after years of separation.

Began Professional Career

In 1954 Price made her concert debut at New Yorks Town Hall, where she exhibited great skill with modern compositions; a magnetic performer, she enjoyed the concert format and continued to tour regularly throughout her career, much to the chagrin of opera purists. Fast becoming a darling of the New York critics, Price soon saw her career take off. In 1955 she appeared in Puccinis Tosca on NBC television, thus becoming the first black singer to perform opera on television. And she was so well-received that she was invited back to appear on NBC telecasts of Mozarts Magic Flute (1956), Poulencs Dialogues of the Carmelites (1957), and Mozarts Don Giovanni (1960).

One of the most fruitful associations of Prices career began in 1957, when she was invited by conductor Kurt Herbert Adler (he had seen her NBC Tosca ) to make her American operatic debut as Madame Lidoine in Dialogues of the Carmelites with the San Francisco Opera. In later years, San Francisco seemed to be the place where Price returned to challenge herself with new roles, thus expanding her repertoire.

In fact, Price first performed Aida thereunder quite unusual circumstances. The first Aida I did, period, anywhere, was on that stage, by accident, Price said in Opera News. Ive always threatened to give two wonderful medals to two wonderful colleagues who happened to have two wonderful appendectomies and gave me two wonderful opportunities to sing Aida. They are Antonietta Stella in San Francisco in 1957 and Anita Cerquetti at Covent Garden in 1958. The year I did Dialogues, Stella had an emergency appendectomy. Adler walked into the room and asked if I knew Aida. I told him yes, and I was on. I went through the score with Maestro Molinari-Pradelli, and I knew every single, solitary note and nuance. I had it ready to travel. After that Aida was definitely part of my repertoire. That was being in the right place at the right time.

Achieved International Acclaim

In the following years, Price expanded her repertoire significantly on American soil, with such distinguished companies as the Chicago Lyric Opera and the American Opera Theater as well as the San Francisco Opera. She credits the great Herbert von Karajan with introducing her to European audiences. Prices debut on that continent came at Viennas Staatsoper in 1958 as Pamina in Zauberflote, not in Aida as has been commonly written. Her second European performance was in Aida at the same theater, and she quickly forged a reputation in Europe with a string of appearances on such venerable stages as Londons Covent Garden, Veronas Arena, the Salzburg Festival, and Milans historic La Scala, where her Aida won the hearts of Verdis own countrymen.

Her international prominence now secure, Price returned home to make her debut at the mecca of American opera, New Yorks Metropolitan Opera, and thus began a long, often controversial, but always glorious association with that revered institution. Her Leonora in Il Trovatore on January 27, 1961, brought a standing ovation of 42 minutes, the longest ever given at the Met. Over the next several years Price was a staple in Metropolitan productions. When the company moved its home to the impressive new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, director Rudolf Bing extended Price the ultimate honor of opening the house in the world premier of Samuel Barbers Antony and Cleopatra.

Although the opera itself was not well received, Price was magnificent, having dedicated herself to the role with total commitment. Antony and Cleopatra was the event of the century, operatically speaking, Price told Opera News. I was there! I lived the life of a hermit for a year and a half, so as not to have a common cold. From the moment I was asked to do this, I simply did everything I possibly could to have it be right. I accepted that responsibility with the greatest happiness. This was the greatest challenge of my life.

Clearly on top of the opera world, Price appeared in 118 Metropolitan productions between 1961 and 1969, when she drastically cut back her appearances not only in New York but elsewhere. It was here that she began to strike some opera insiders as ungrateful, vindictive, and arrogant, but Price insists that she was merely protecting herself from overexposure. If I dont want to do something, I dont do itnothing against anyone or the institution, she told Jacobson. If you say yes to something that may not go, you are discardednot the people who asked you to do it. They have something else to do. You are part of a unit, and they need your expertise to make the unit better. The thing thats been misunderstood is that I dont give a lot of rhetoric before I say no. I just say no. It saves everybody time, and maybe because I dont give a reason, its taken in a negative way.

In the 1970s Price drastically cut the number of opera appearances, preferring to focus instead on her first loverecitalsin which she enjoyed the challenge of creating several characters on stage in succession. Her career credits include countless recordings, many of them on the RCA label, which enjoyed an exclusive 20-year contract with the diva. She has won 13 Grammy Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the nations highest civilian award) in 1965, the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the arts in 1980, and the First National Medal of Arts. She has appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and she performed at the White House in 1978. Price has lived alone for years in a townhouse in New Yorks Greenwich Village.

Sources

Books

Baker, Theodore, Bakers Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Schirmer, 1984.

Hitchcock, H. Wiley, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, MacMillan, 1986.

Souther, Eileen, The Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians, Greenwood Press, 1982.

Periodicals

Opera News, July 1985; August 1985.

David Collins

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"Price, Leontyne 1927—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Price, Leontyne

Leontyne Price

Born: February 10, 1927
Laurel, Mississippi

African American opera singer

Leontyne Price was a prima donna soprano (the lead female singer in an opera) and considered in most many circles as one of the finest opera singers of the twentieth century.

Early life and career

Mary Leontyne Price was born in Laurel, Mississippi, on February 10, 1927. Her parents were especially encouraging in developing their daughter's love of music. As a young girl, Price played piano and sang in her church choir. Nine-year-old Price was especially influenced when she saw American opera singer Marian Anderson (18971993) perform in Jackson, Mississippi. She claims this experience as the moment she knew she wanted to be an opera singer.

Educated in public schools in Laurel, Price then attended Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio, where she received her bachelor of arts degree in 1948. Her particular interest was singing in the glee club at Central State, where she displayed an abundance of musical talent, and she decided to make a career of singing.

After Central State College, Price entered New York's Juilliard School of Music where she studied until 1952. At the same time she took private lessons under Florence Page Kimball. Price was the first African American singer to gain international stardom in opera, an art form previously reserved for the upper-class white society. Her success signified not only a monumental stride for her own generation, but for those that came before and after her.

Rising star

While still at Juilliard, Price exhibited her soprano (highest operatic voice) ability at various concerts and in her appearance as Mistress Ford in Giuseppe Verdi's (18131901) Falstaff. Virgil Thomson took notice of her performance and provided her with her Broadway stage debut in the Broadway revival of his Four Saints in Three Acts. Her ability then earned her the role of Bess in George Gershwin's (18981937) Porgy and Bess in a touring company that met with great successes in London, England; Paris, France; Berlin, Germany; and Moscow, Russia. She also played Bess when the company performed Porgy and Bess on Broadway. During the tour she married William Warfield, who sang the role of Porgy. Other composers took note of Price's ability, and in 1953 she sang premieres of works by Henri Sauget, Lou Harrison, John La Montaine, and Igor Stravinsky (1881971), among others.

Price received overwhelming critical praise for her 1954 Town Hall concert in New York City and followed that with her first performance in grand opera (an opera where all of the text is sung), in 1955, as Floria in Giacomo Puccini's (18581924) Tosca on network television with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) Opera. She made her first opera stage appearance in 1957 as Madame Lidoine in Francis Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites with the San Francisco Opera Company. Price also toured Italy successfully that year and sang Aida at La Scala in Milan. She continued to sing with the San Francisco Opera, as well as with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and other major opera houses in North America.

In 1960 Price portrayed Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at the Salzburg Festival in Austria. On January 27, 1961, she made her debut in New York's famous Metropolitan Opera as Leonora in Il Trovatore, which earned her thunderous applause and moved opera critics to regard her as one of the greats of the twentieth century. She also sang the title role at the Metropolitan Opera in Madame Butterfly and the role of Minnie in La Franciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West). Price appeared in 118 Metropolitan productions between 1961 and 1969. In 1965 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson (19081973), who said, "Her singing has brought light to her land."

One of Price's greatest triumphs was her creation of the role of Cleopatra in Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra. Its premiere opened the 1966 Metropolitan Opera season as well as the beautiful new Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. Her best and favorite performances were as Verdi heroines Elvira in Ernani, Leonora in Il Trovatore, Amelia in The Masked Ball, and especially as Aida.

Later career

Price made other worldwide tours that included Australia and Argentina's Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires in 1969. In the 1970s Price drastically cut the number of opera appearances, preferring to focus instead on her first love, recitals (solo performances), in which she enjoyed the challenge of creating several characters on stage in succession. In 1985, Price gave her final performance at New York's Lincoln Center in the title role of Verdi's Aida. She was fifty-seven years old.

Price made numerous recordings of music outside of opera and was awarded honorary degrees from Dartmouth College, Howard University, and Fordham University, among others. Music critics universally lavished praise on her voice and her portrayals. Divorced from Warfield in 1972, she lives in her homes in Rome, Italy, and New York.

In October of 2001, Price briefly came out of retirement to give her rendition of "America the Beautiful" to a capacity crowd at Carnegie Hall. The performance opened a special ceremony dedicated to the memory of those who died in the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001, when thousands died in New York City after two planes crashed into the World Trade Center.

For More Information

Lyon, Hugh Lee. Leontyne Price: Highlights of a Prima Donna. New York: Vantage Press, 1973.

McNair, Joseph D. Leontyne Price. Chanhassen, MN: Child's World, 2001.

Steins, Richard. Leontyne Price, Opera Superstar. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1993.

Woronoff, Kristen. Leontyne Price. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 2002.

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Leontyne Price

Leontyne Price

Leontyne Price (born 1927) was a prima donna soprano acclaimed in most circles as one of the finest opera singers of the 20th century.

Mary Leontyne Price was born in Laurel, Mississippi, on February 10, 1927. Educated in public schools in Laurel, she then attended Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1948. Her particular interest was singing in the glee club at Central State, where she displayed an abundance of musical talent, and she decided to make a career of singing. Subsequently she entered New York's Juilliard School of Music where she studied until 1952. At the same time she took private lessons under the tutelage of Florence Page Kimball. Price was the first black singer to gain international stardom in opera, an art form previously confined to the upper-class white society. Her success signified not only a monumental stride for her own generation, but for those that came before and after her.

While still at Juilliard, Price exhibited her soprano ability at various concerts and in her appearance as Mistress Ford in Verdi's Falstaff. Virgil Thomson took notice of her performance and provided her with her Broadway stage debut in the Broadway revival of his Four Saints in Three Acts. Her ability then earned her the role of Bess in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in a touring company that met with great successes in London, Paris, Berlin, and Moscow. She also played Bess when the company appeared in the Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess. During the tour she married baritone William Warfield, who sang the role of Porgy. Other composers took note of Price's ability, and in 1953 she sang premieres of works of Henri Sauget, Lou Harrison, John La Montaine, and Igor Stravinsky, among others.

Price received overwhelming critical acclaim in her 1954 Town Hall concert in New York City and followed that with her first performance in grand opera, in 1955, as Floria in Puccini's Tosca on network television with the NBC Opera. She made her first opera stage appearance in 1957 as Madame Lidoine in Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites with the San Francisco Opera Company. Price also toured Italy successfully that year and sang Aida at La Scala in Milan. She continued to sing with the San Francisco Opera, as well as with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and other major opera houses in North America.

In 1960 Price portrayed Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at the Salzburg Festival in Austria. On January 27, 1961, she made her debut in New York's famous Metropolitan Opera as Leonora in Il Trovatore, which earned a thunderous ovation and moved opera critics to regard her as one of the greats of the 20th century. She also sang the title role at the Met in Madame Butterfly and the role of Minnie in La Franciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West). Price appeared in 118 Metropolitan productions between 1961 and 1969. In 1965 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson, who said, "Her singing has brought light to her land."

One of Price's greatest triumphs was her creation of the role of Cleopatra in Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra. Its premiere opened the 1966 Metropolitan Opera season as well as the beautiful new Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. Her best and favorite performances were as Verdi heroines Elvira in Ernani, Leonora in Il Trovatore, Amelia in The Masked Ball, and especially as Aida.

Price made other worldwide tours that included Australia and Argentina's Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires in 1969. In the 1970s Price drastically cut the number of opera appearances, preferring to focus instead on her first love, recitals, in which she enjoyed the challenge of creating several characters on stage in succession. In 1985, Price gave her final performance at New York's Lincoln Center in the title role of Verdi's Aida. She was 57 years old.

Price made numerous recordings of music outside of opera because of her phenomenal voice and had honorary degrees conferred upon her from Dartmouth College, Howard University, and Fordham University, among others. Separated, and finally divorced, from Warfield, she lived in her homes in Rome and New York. Music critics universally lavished praise on her voice and her portrayals.

Further Reading

A brief biography of Leontyne Price is Leontyne Price: Opera Superstar (1984) by Silvia Williams. A more detailed study is Hugh Lee Lyon, Leontyne Price: Highlights of a Prima Donna (1973). Useful information can also be found in Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (1984) by Theodore Baker, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music (1986), and The Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (1982) by Eileen Souther. □

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Price, Leontyne

Leontyne Price (Mary Leontyne Price) (lā´əntēn), 1927–, American soprano, b. Laurel, Miss. She studied voice at the Juilliard School of Music with Florence Page Kimball. Subsequently she appeared as Bess in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess on Broadway (1952–54), repeating her performance in a highly successful international tour sponsored by the U.S. State Dept. She made her operatic debut on television in 1955, singing the title role in Tosca. In 1961 she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Leonora in Verdi's Il Trovatore. Five years later, in 1966, she created the role of Cleopatra in Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra, which opened the Metropolitan's new building at Lincoln Center. Price's voice is noted for its extraordinary range and power. She is particularly noted for her performances of the title roles in Verdi's Aïda and Puccini's Madame Butterfly.

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Price, (Mary Violet) Leontyne

Price, (Mary Violet) Leontyne (b Laurel, Miss., 1927). Amer. soprano. Sang Mrs Ford in Falstaff in student prod. at Juilliard Sch. Chosen by Virgil Thomson to sing in revival of Four Saints in Three Acts in NY and Paris, 1952. Sang Bess in Porgy and Bess in tour of USA 1952–4 and in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, and London in 1955. Recital début NY 1954, then NBC TV 1955. S. Francisco début 1957; Chicago 1959; Vienna 1958; CG 1958; Salzburg 1959; La Scala 1960; NY Met 1961; Paris 1968. One of finest Verdi sops. of her day and memorable Butterfly and Tosca. Also noted exponent of mus. of Samuel Barber (gave f.p. of his Prayers of Kierkegaard with Boston SO cond. Munch, 1954, and created Cleopatra in NY Met première of his Antony and Cleopatra, 1966). Last opera appearance was as Aida at NY Met, 3 Jan. 1985.

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Price, (Mary) Leontyne

Price, (Mary) Leontyne (1927– ) US soprano. She made a triumphant debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in 1961 in Verdi's II Trovatore. She later appeared in many of the world's leading opera houses.

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