"A superb singer is really a highly trained athlete. You must stay in training.” – Grace
See Grace Bumbry receive a Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, in the 2009 awards ceremony airing Dec. 29 on CBS at 9 p.m (ET/PT).
Grace Bumbry enjoyed a remarkable operatic career as one of the world’s finest mezzo sopranos. Following her spectacularly successful Paris Opera debut in Aida (1960) she shot to international stardom and a long, successful career. Breaking barriers amid controversy as the first black singer at the Bayreuth Wagner Festival in 1961, her performance as Venus in Tannhauser stunned her critics with an unprecedented 42 stage calls. A long career followed, with starring roles at the major opera houses of the world. As a performer, she eventually stretched herself and her voice to tackle high soprano roles as well as mezzo, returning again later in her career to mezzo roles. She proved that “a superb singer is really a highly trained athlete. You must stay in training.” As a recitalist, recording artist, and teacher, she continued her lifelong affair with music long after she left the operatic stage.
She grew up singing in church choir, and as a student at Northwestern University she studied with the Wagnerian singer Lotte Lehmann. "Lehmann did not teach voice," she says. "She taught interpretation of opera and lieder" — one reason Bumbry focused on the recital literature, as well as opera roles, throughout her career” (Washington Post).
Grace Bumbry was also enriched by her love and heritage of spirituals, which she grew up singing with her family in the church choir. She founded the Grace Bumbry Black Musical Heritage Vocal Ensemble, a choir devoted to preserving and performing traditional Negro spirituals and gospel on the concert stage. ‘The spiritual, for me, is the American classic, as Brahms and Beethoven are European classic," said Bumbry in a New York Times interview.
Grace Bumbry In Concert DVD Hear the lush, velvety voice of Grace Bumbry singing arias from French and Italian operas in this 1991 live concert at the Lugano Festival in Switzerland. Subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Italian and German. 92 min. DVD with bonus audio interview. Available from Music in Motion. 5210 $19.95 order now
Grace Bumbry plays a seductive Carmen in this video clip: