October 18


October 18, 1919 Camilla Ella Williams, the first African American to receive a contract with a major American opera company, was born in Danville, Virginia. Williams earned her Bachelor of Science degree in music from Virginia State College in 1941 and earned a Marian Anderson Fellowship in 1943 and 1944. In 1946, she debuted with the New York City Opera and over the years sang throughout the United States and Europe with various other opera companies. In 1954, Williams became the first African American to sing a major role with the Vienna State Opera and in 1963 she sang the national anthem at the White House and at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Williams retired from opera in 1970 and in 1977 was appointed professor of voice at Indiana University where she taught until her retirement in 1997. In 1979, the City of Danville dedicated the Camilla Williams Park in her honor. In 2009, a “Tribute to Camilla Williams” program was held at the Schomburg Center and she was awarded the President’s Medal for Excellence by Indiana University. Her biography, “The Life of Camilla Williams, African American Classical Singer and Diva,” was published in 2011.


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