Leontyne Price’s Birthday
February 10, 2021
By Nate Little and Alexander Shragis
As part of Black History Month, the Phoenix present Nate’s Favorite Facts: A Journey Through African American History.
Born February 10th, 1927, in Laurel Mississippi, Leontyne Price is a prodigious American Soprano opera singer. Her talent as a pianist and singer were apparent from a young age through her work in the glee club and church choir. She also sang in the school chorus and played piano for school productions.
Price attended the all-black Wilberforce College in Wilberforce Ohio, where she continued singing and teaching music. Her burgeoning career as a soloist continued, as she would earn third place in a vocal competition at the Chicagoland Music Festival in 1947. Her musical success earned her a patron and full scholarship to the Juliard School of Music in 1958.
Leontyne Price continued to train as a musician and vocalist, and enrolled in the opera program in 1950. This led to her breakout performance in 1952 as “St. Cecillia” in a Julliard production of Four Saints in Three Acts, which she performed on Broadway and then in Paris. Then it was back to the states for a performance of Porgy and Bess in D.C. It was truly an auspicious start to a prodigious career.
Price would continue on her operatic track, opening for operas from San Francisco to Vienna. One of her most well known career milestones was her role as Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra, a role written specifically for her by composer Samuel Barber. Price’s singing in the opera was highly acclaimed.
In 1962, Price performed in Il Trovatore at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. When her performance finished, the audience honored her with a 35 minute standing ovation. She was the first African American to sing with and for The Met. Her performance was so impressive that, in order to retain her as the lead role, the orchestra refused to play at any segregated opera halls when they went on tour in the still segregated south. The result was a sweeping desegregation of multiple singing halls, as no one wanted to miss a Price performance. Newspapers lauded her for bringing a whole new meaning to the soprano voice class.
On January 3rd, 1985, after 21 seasons and 205 performances at The Met, Price officially retired after a stirring performance of Aida. The audience regaled her with a 25 minute standing ovation. After her retirement, she would continue to teach music and perform in smaller events, and sang at a concert in October 2001 honoring the victims of the September 11th attacks. Her talent and career were nothing short of sensational, and her accomplishments beyond description. Today we celebrate her immense talent and presence.
For more information about Leontyne Price, visit https://www.biography.com/musician/leontyne-price