Her Story: Leontyne Price

Mary Violet Leontyne Price (February 10, 1927), American soprano opera singer and a living legend. Born and raised in Laurel, Mississippi, she was educated at local public schools and attended Central State College in Ohio. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1948, she entered New York’s Juilliard School of Music. One of her greatest early inspirations was singer Marian Anderson.

Leontyne Price rose to international acclaim in the 1950s and 1960s, becoming the first African American to achieve international stardom in opera. Price made her opera house debut at the San Francisco Opera House in 1957. On July 2, 1958, she debuted in London at Covent Garden, and two years later, she played Aida to a packed house at the venerable La Scala on May 21, 1960, becoming the first black singer to sing a major role at this level of professional opera. 

Her success was significant because the opera was historically an art form reserved for upper-class white society. She became a leading artist at the Metropolitan Opera in 1962, her performance ignited a 42-minute ovation, one of the longest in the Met’s history. Her rise to fame signified a monumental stride for her own generation, as well as those that came before and after her.

Among her many honors are the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964), the Kennedy Center Honors (1980), the National Medal of Arts (1985), 19 Grammy Awards, and a special Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. In October 2008, she received one of the first Opera Honors given by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Leontyne Price, prima donna soprano, is considered one of the finest opera singers of the 20th century. She is now a powerful advocate for the art she loves, and for human rights.

Be black, aim high, shine.

-Leontyne Price

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