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Grace Bumbry (b1937)


Grace Bumbry was born into a family of modest means, her father being a railway porter and her mother a housewife. After high school she won a radio competition when only seventeen singing ‘O don fatale’ from Verdi’s Don Carlo. The prize was a scholarship for further vocal study, which she undertook firstly at Boston University and then at Northwestern University. Here Bumbry came into contact with Lotte Lehmann, who became her mentor and subsequently taught her at at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. In 1958 Bumbry was a joint-winner, with the soprano Martina Arroyo, of the Metropolitian Opera Auditions, making her recital début the same year, in Paris. Her operatic stage début took place as Amneris/Aida at the Paris Opera in 1960, when she also began a contract with the Basle Opera. The following year Bumbry attracted international attention when Wieland Wagner cast her to sing Venus/Tannhäuser at the Bayreuth Festival. She was the first black singer to appear at Bayreuth and so successful was her performance that she was invited to sing at the White House.

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