Grace Bumbry was an American singer who became famous for her opera performances. She was one of the best mezzo-sopranos of her time and had a unique and powerful voice. Bumbry was one of the first successful African-American singers in classical music.
Grace Bumbry: The First Black Singer at Bayreuth Festival
Grace Bumbry Biography
Grace Bumbry was an opera singer born on January 4, 1937, in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. She passed away on May 7, 2023, at the age of 86 in Vienna, Austria. Bumbry had a successful career as an opera singer from 1958 until her death in 2023. She was married to Edwin Jaeckel from 1963 to 1972.
She was known for singing with great emotion and intensity on stage and had a wide range of notes in her voice. Bumbry also excelled in recitals and teaching singing later in her career. She lived in Switzerland for many years and spent her final years in Vienna, where she performed most of the time.
Family Background | Education
Grace Bumbry was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1937. Her parents were Benjamin Bumbry, who worked on the railroad, and Melzia Bumbry, who was a teacher. They were a musical family and deeply religious.
Grace went to Charles Sumner High School, a famous black high school in St. Louis, where she learned to sing from her teacher Kenneth Billups. At 17, she won a talent contest and got to sing on national TV, which helped her get a scholarship to study music in Boston.
Later, Grace studied with Lotte Lehmann, a famous German singer who became her mentor, and other teachers in California and Paris.
In 1963, Grace Bumbry married a tenor named Erwin Jaeckel. However, they got divorced in 1972. On October 20, 2022, she had a stroke while on a flight from Vienna to New York. She became very sick over the next few months and eventually died at a hospital in Vienna on May 7, 2023, at the age of 86 due to complications from the stroke.
Grace Bumbry is an American opera singer who has gained worldwide recognition for her remarkable contributions to the classical music industry. She was born in 1937 in St. Louis, Missouri. Bumbry has been praised for her ability to portray a wide range of roles, from mezzo-soprano to soprano.
In 1958, Bumbry became a joint winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and later that year, she made her recital debut in Paris.
She made her operatic debut in 1960 at the Paris Opéra, where she sang Amneris in Verdi’s Aida. That same year, she joined the Basel Opera and remained there for four years.
In 1961, at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany, Bumbry played Venus in Tannhäuser, becoming the first black singer to appear there. Her performance was a huge success, and she earned the nickname “Black Venus.” The media’s furor made her an international cause célèbre.
Bumbry’s career continued to soar as she debuted at the Royal Opera House in London in 1963, at La Scala in 1964, and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1965.
She has portrayed a wide range of roles, including Lady Macbeth, Carmen, and Chimène in Le Cid. Bumbry’s versatility as a performer has allowed her to take on both mezzo-soprano and soprano roles.
In the 1990s, Bumbry founded and toured with the Grace Bumbry Black Musical Heritage Ensemble, a group devoted to preserving and performing traditional Negro spirituals.
Her last operatic performance was as Klytämnestra in Elektra by R. Strauss in Lyon in 1997. Bumbry then dedicated herself to teaching and judging international competitions and to the concert stage.
Grace Bumbry had a long and impressive career in opera, but it was sometimes controversial. She started as a mezzo-soprano but later sang many soprano roles, although some people disagreed whether she was a true soprano.
She performed at top opera houses all over the world and sang until the late 1990s. Bumbry’s operatic career began in 1960 and ended in 1997. She sang her last performance as Klytämnestra in Lyon.
Shirley Verrett Bumbry was a talented singer who is well-known for her mezzo singing style. She recorded several famous operas such as Carmen and Amneris and performed at the Royal Festival Hall in April 1964.
Although she didn’t have any complete studio recordings of her soprano roles, there are some live recordings of her performances of Le Cid, Jenůfa, and Norma. These were all recorded during her mezzo period in the 1960s.
She also recorded other types of music, such as the musical Carmen Jones, operetta by Johann Strauss, and Handel’s Israel in Egypt and Judas Maccabeus. Additionally, she released an album of pop songs.
Grace Bumbry received several awards and honors during her career, including induction into the St. Louis Walk of Fame and being named Commandeur des Arts et Lettres by the French government.
She also won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1972 and was honored with the Kennedy Center Honors in 2009. She paid tribute to her friend Justino Diaz at the 2021 Kennedy Center Honors.
Grace Bumbry has a net worth ranging from $100,000 to $1 million as of 2023.   She earned her wealth primarily from her successful career as an opera singer, performing in major opera houses around the world from the 1960s to the 1990s.
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