2008 NEA Opera Honoree
Leontyne Price is universally regarded as one of the greatest artists of our time. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1961 as Leonora in Il Trovatore to one of the most prolonged demonstrations of enthusiasm ever witnessed at the opera house. "Time Magazine" hailed her as the "diva di tutte le dive" when she sang arias by Verdi, Richard Strauss and Puccini.
Leontyne Price was born in Laurel, Mississippi. She is the daughter of James and Katie Price. She played the piano at an early age and later sang in the church choir and in the Oak Park High School Chorus. Her goal was to become a music teacher. She attended Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio where her singing in the Glee Club attracted much attention and she was encouraged to follow a singing career. Upon graduation with a Bachelor of Arts degree she was awarded a scholarship to The Juilliard School in New York. Ms. Price was soon heard in the premieres of works by Stravinsky, Barber, La Montaine as well as other composers. In 1952 she made her Paris debut in Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts and also made her debut in the Robert Breen production of Porgy and Bess, which toured Vienna, Berlin, London, Paris and other cities. At her Town Hall debut recital in 1954, she sang the first performance of Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs with the composer at the piano. She made her operatic debut in 1955 with the NBC-TV Opera Company in the nationally telecast production of Tosca. She subsequently appeared in thee additional NBC-TV productions. Appearances followed with the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and a U.S. Department of State (ANTA) sponsored tour to India. She also performed with the San Francisco Symphony followed by her debut at the San Francisco Opera in the role of Madame Lidoine in Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites. She made her debut in the title role of Aida at the San Francisco Opera in 1957. She was invited by Maestro Herbert von Karajan to debut at the Vienna State Opera as Aida in 1959. When she later performed the role at La Scala, a critic wrote, "Our great Verdi would have found her the ideal Aida." Triumphant engagements followed at Salzburg, Covent Garden, Verona, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Paris Opera and Teatro Colon. The Metropolitan Opera presented her in seven different roles during her first year with the company. Described by Harold C. Schonberg in "The New York Times" as "the Stradivarius of singers," Ms. Price has starred in Aida, Don Giovanni (Donna Anna), Tosca, II Trovatore (Leonora), Madama Butterfly, Un Ballo in Maschera (Amelia), Manon Lescaut and Ariadne auf Naxos. Ms. Price created the role of Cleopatra in Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra, composed for the opening night of the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. Ms. Price's multi-dimensional career spans over 50 years and includes opera, concerts, recitals, recordings and master classes. Her recitals always include songs by American composers and Negro Spirituals. Many of her performances have been widely viewed on special telecasts.
In 1995, "Opera News" commented, "No native-born singer of her era has been so honored as Leontyne Price. Her name on a poster or a handbill has always been the guarantee of a sold-out performance." Ms. Price has received 19 Grammy Awards including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She also has received 3 Emmy Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of the Arts, the Kennedy Center Honor, the Handel Medallion, the San Francisco Opera Silver Medal, the Italian Order of Merit, the French Order of Arts and Letters, the NAACP Spingarn Medal, the Image Award, the Essence Award, the Meadows Award in the Arts, the Ambassador Award, the Opera News Award, American Academy of Achievement Award, the National Association of Black Broadcasters Award, the American Society of Concert Managers Award, 16 Honorary Doctorate Degrees and induction into the Classical Music Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame and the Oak Park High School Hall of Fame. She has received numerous keys to cities and has been presented with many resolutions in her name. She has received many tributes from major publications such as "Time Magazine," "Opera News," "Ebony," "Essence," "Good Housekeeping" and "Life Magazine." She was selected as one of Ms. Oprah Winfrey's "Legends." Ms. Price is very patriotic and has represented her country at many important events such as the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, the Welcoming Ceremony for Pope John Paul II, the International Economic Summit Conference and State Dinners at the White House. She also authored Aida, a children's book. Ms. Price is a member of many professional and civic organizations. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and she is an honorary member of the Links. Ms. Price continues to be an active member of the classical music community.
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