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(A more up-to-date version of this chronology is available at


Below is a brief, and still very incomplete, chronology of some significant events involving African American vocal soloists or performing groups, composers, and authors/publishers of books related to vocal music. Please email me if you wish to suggest other entries.
1791 Composer and vocalist Newton Gardner (1746-1826) opens one the first black-owned singing school in the United States. Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield
1853 Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield (ca. 1824-1876), known as the "Black Swan," makes her New York debut at the Metropolitan Hall. Because African Americans are denied admission to the concert, she gives an additional performance at the Broadway Tabernacle.
1854 Greenfield sings in a command performance before Queen Victoria of England.
1867 Slave Songs of the United States, a collection of plantation songs and spirituals compiled by William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison, is published.
1871 Fisk Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, begin their first tour.
1878 James M. Trotter (1842-1892) publishs Music and Some Highly Musical People, which represents the first overview of African American music: popular, folk, and concert.
1883 Marie Selika Williams (ca. 1849-1937) gives a command performance for Queen Victoria.
1886 Amelia Tilghman becomes the first African American publisher and editor of a music magazine, The Musical Messenger. Sissieretta Jones
1892 The World's Fair Colored Opera Company, with featured singer, soprano Matilda Sissieretta Jones (1869-1933), becomes the first African American group to perform at New York City's Carnegie Hall. They appeared less than one year after the hall's opening.

Sissieretta Jones, known as the "Black Patti," sings before Benjamin Harrison, president of the United States.

1900 Composer J. Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) and writer James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) pen the music and words of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing."
1914 The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) forms, with James Weldon Johnson and composer/baritone Harry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949) as charter members.
1916 H. T. Burleigh publishes the first art song arrangements of spirituals, Jubilee Songs of the United States. Roland Hayes
1919 The National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM) holds its first convention in Chicago, Illinois.
1921 Tenor Roland Hayes (1887-1977) gives a command performance before King George V of England
1925 Bass Paul Robeson (1898-1976), accompanied by pianist Lawrence Brown, gives the first recital of all Negro spirituals and worksongs at the Greenwich Village Theatre, New York, New York.
1927 Lillian Evanti (1890-1967) debuts in the title role of Delibes' opera, Lakmé, in Nice, France
1930 Caterina Jarboro (1903-1986) debuts in the title role in the Verdi opera, Aida, at the Puccini Theater, Milan, Italy.
1933 Hall Johnson (1888-1970) opera, Run Little Chillun, is the first Black folk opera produced on Broadway. Hall Johnson
1934 Four Saints in Three Acts, music by Virgil Thomson and libretto by Gertrude Stein, is the first opera with an all-African American cast performed on Broadway.
1935 George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess opens on Broadway, with baritone Todd Duncan (1903-1998) as Porgy, and sopranos Anne Brown (1912-2009) as Bess and Ruby Elzy (1908-1943) as Serena.
1936 Negro Musicians and Their Music, an historical account of African American musical performers and styles, is published shortly after the death of its author, Maud Cuney Hare (1874-1936).
1939 Contralto Marian Anderson (1897-1993) gives a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, after the Daughters of the American Revolution refuse to allow her use of Constitution Hall. The program drew a crowd of 75,000 and millions of radio listeners.
1945 Duncan becomes the first African American to sing with a major American opera company, the New York City Opera, in the role of Tonio in Leoncavallo's I pagliacci William Grant Still
1946 Soprano Camilla Williams (1922-2012) signs a contract with the New York City Opera, the first African American to do so with a major American opera company. Her debut with the company was as the title role in Madama Butterfly.
1947 Soprano Helen Phillips (ca. 1919-2005) becomes the first African American to sing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera when she was hired as a substitute chorister for performances of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana.
1948 Hayes publishes a collection of folksongs entitled, My Songs: Afraamerican Religious Folk Songs.
1949 Troubled Island, an opera by William Grant Still (1895-1978), becomes the first opera composed by an African American to be performed by a major American opera company, the New York City Opera. Mattiwilda Dobbs at La Scala
1951 William Warfield (1920-2002) and Muriel Rahn (1911-1961) become the first African American concert artists presented on television when they appear on The Ed Sullivan Show

Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, the first opera written specifically for presentation on television, is premiered by the NBC Television Opera Theatre, New York. The cast includes bass-baritone Willis Patterson (b. 1930) as King Balthazar.

1953 Soprano and educator Dorothy Maynor (1910-1996) performs the U.S. National Anthem at the inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower. This is the first time an African American sings at an American inaugural.
Soprano Lenora Lafayette (1926-1975) is the first African American to sing in a leading role with the Royal Opera House in London's Covert Garden, taking on the title role in their production of Verdi's Aida

Soprano Mattiwilda Dobbs (1925-2015) becomes the first African American to sing at La Scala in the role of Elvira in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algieri. She is selected for the role at the request of conductor Herbert von Karajan.

Robert McFerrin
1955 Anderson becomes the first African American to sing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, New York, when she appears in the role of Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera, by Verdi. She would perform the same role on the Met Radio Broadcast later that year.

Robert McFerrin (1921-2006) makes his Met debut (the first African American male to do so) as Amonasro in Verdi's Aida.

Tenor Charles Holland (1909-1987) becomes the first African American to perform at L'Opera Comique in Paris, appearing as Nadir in Georges Bizet's The Pearl Fishers.
1955 Leontyne Price (b. 1927) appears on NBC television in the title role of Puccini's Tosca, the first time an African American sings in an opera telecast.
1960 The soundtrack from the film version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess receives the 1959 Grammy award for Best Soundtrack Album, Original Cast, Motion Picture or Television. McFerrin voiced the role of Porgy, soprano Adele Addison (b. 1925) sang Bess, and Inez Matthews (1917-2004) performed the role of Serena on the soundtrack.
1961 Soprano/mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry (b. 1937) becomes the first African American to sing at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany when she sings the role of Venus in Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser. Leontyne Price and Justino Diaz
1963 Maynor opens the Harlem School of the Arts in community center of St. James Presbyterian Church, New York City, beginning with 20 students. By her retirement as its executive director in 1979, the school had grown to 40 instructors with over 1,000 students and had moved into a new, 37,000 square foot facility.
1966 Leontyne Price, along with Justino Díaz, create the title roles in Samuel Barber's opera, Antony and Cleopatra. The opera was commissioned especially for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera's new facilities at Lincoln Center.
1972 Treemonisha premieres 55 years after the death of the opera's composer, Scott Joplin (1868-1917), at the Atlanta (Georgia) Memorial Arts Center.
1975 Maynor becomes the first African American member of the Metropolitan Opera board.

The 1951 recording of Porgy and Bess, with bass-baritone Lawrence Winters (1915–1965) and soprano Camilla Williams (1919–2012) in the title roles, is induced into the Grammy Hall of Fame
1976 Joplin receives a special Pulitzer Prize posthumously for his contributions to American music.

The 1976 recording of Porgy and Bess, with soprano Leona Mitchell (b. 1949) as Bess, wins the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.
1977 The Houston Grand Opera's production of Porgy and Bess wins the Tony Award for Best Revival (Musical)--with five other nominations for acting and technical awards. The recording from this production, featuring baritone Donnie Ray Albert (b. 1950) and soprano Clamma Dale (b. 1948) in the title roles, also receives the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.
1978 Simon Estes (b. 1938) becomes the first male African American to sing a major role on the stage at Bayreuth, performing the title role in Wagner's Der fliegende Hollander Denyce Graves
1996 Composer George Walker (b. 1922) receives the Pulitzer Prize for Lilacs, a work for soprano and orchestra commissioned by the Boston Symphony as part of its tribute to tenor Roland Hayes. This marks the first time an African American has won the prize for music.
2001 Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves (b. 1964) is the featured singer at the National Prayer Service held at the Washington National Cathedral following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and the downing of United Airlines Flight 93 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
2007 Lost Sounds, the companion audio compact disc to the book, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919, by Tim Brooks, wins the 2007 Grammy award for “Best Historical Release." The recording includes performances by H. T. Burleigh, Roland Hayes, and Edward Boatner.

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Afrocentric Voices in Classical Music. Created by Randye Jones. Created/Last modified: December 11, 2015. Accessed: .

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