Grace Bumbry (1937-Today)
Grace Bumbry was born in St. Louis to a deeply religious and music-driven family. She graduated form Sumner High School, where she took voice lessons and began her success as an American opera singer. At age 17, Bumbry entered and won a teen talent contest sponsored by a St. Louis radio station, where the prize included a $1000 war bond, a trip to New York City, and a scholarship to the St. Louis Institute of Music. However because of Bumbry’s race, the Institute wouldn’t accept her. She ended up gaining popularity through other teen recruiting programs, and studied at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, later transferring to Northwestern University. With her rising fame, Bumbry was considered one of the leading mezzo-sopranos of her generation and became known for her passion and dramatic intensity on stage.
In 1956, Bumbry made her recital debut in Paris, her opera debut at the Paris Opera in 1960, and joined the Basel Opera in Switzerland. She entered the United States opera scene in 1965 at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City’s esteemed opera house. In the 1990s, she founded and toured with the Grace Bumbry Black Musical Heritage Ensemble, a group devoted to the preservation and performance of traditional Black spiritual music. Bumbry also sang at the White House twice in the peak of her career. Bumbry’s last opera performance was in Lyon in 1997, and has since then taken on a teaching role and judges singing competitions on the side. Bumbry is an integral part of the pioneering generation of African American opera and classical singers who have paved the way for larger African American musical success.