Remember: Barrier-Breaking Opera Star Camilla Williams

You must know the past to know the future.

In 1946 soprano Camilla Williams performed as Cio-Cio-San in the New York Opera’s first“Madama Butterfly” and was the first black woman signed with a major American opera company.

Miss Williams, the daughter of a chauffeur and a domestic in the Jim Crow South, was the first black woman to secure a contract with a major United States opera company a distinction widely ascribed in the public memory to the contralto Marian Anderson.

On May 15, 1946, she was an unknown singer named Camilla Williams who took the stage at City Center in Manhattan as Cio-Cio-San, the doomed heroine of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.”Miss Williams’s performance that night opened to rave reviews, and she went on to have a career doing what she loved, though not without the challenges associated with being a talented person of color.Nonetheless, like the strong before her and since, she made it through, head high, shoulders back, eyes up – a true hero and shining star.Read the full obituary for an in depth look at this marvelous woman.

Gershwin: Porgy & Bess


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