On May 15, 1946, a soprano named Camilla Williams made her début as Butterfly at the City Center Opera of New York, making her the first African-American woman to star on a major opera stage. Among her many other accomplishments was singing the role of Bess in the first complete recording of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
In 1977, Williams became the first African-American voice professor at Indiana University’s prestigious music school in Bloomington. She died there on Sunday, of complications from cancer. She was 92.
Here is a wonderful, 10-minute documentary shown at a New York City Opera opera tribute to Williams in 2009: