Opera singer Camilla Williams dies

Opera singer Camilla Williams has died in Indiana, aged 92.

Camilla Williams

The singer who passed away on Sunday, had been suffering from cancer.

Camilla Williams was the first black woman to appear in a leading role with a major US opera company. She made her legendary debut in May 1946 in the title role of Madam Butterfly with the New York City Opera, nearly nine years before Marian Anderson became the first African-American singer to appear at New York's Metropolitan Opera. A New York Times review of Williams at the time, said the singer displayed "a vividness and subtlety unmatched by any other artist who has essayed the part here in many a year".

A year after her debut performance she performed the role of Mimi in Puccini's La Boheme and in 1948 she sang the title role of Verdi's Aida.

In 1951 she sang the title female role in first complete recording of Gershwin's celebrated opera Porgy and Bess, best known for the song ‘Summertime’.

As well as a celebrate opera singer, Williams was also a strong advocate and campaigner for civil rights. She was a lifelong member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and sang the national anthem before 200,000 people at the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, immediately before Martin Luther King gave his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech.

In 1950, she married defence lawyer Charles Beavers, whose clients included civil rights leader Malcolm X.

After Beavers' death in 1970, Williams retired from the world of opera in 1971 and began teaching as a professor of voice at Brooklyn College before going on to Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where Williams became the first black professor of voice. She retired in 1997.

Her autobiography - The Life of Camilla Williams, African American Classical Singer and Diva - was published last year.

Camilla Williams

Camilla Williams Soprano Camilla Williams

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