Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI MUSICIANS: Leontyne Price


Leontyne Price Leontyne Price, 1998 -Photo by John Severson/Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, MS

Major Works

Songs

  • Ev'ry Time I Feel The Spirit
  • Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees
  • Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
  • Holy, Holy, Holy (Dykes-John Henry Newman)
  • Blessed Assurance (Mrs. Joseph F. Knapp-Fanny J. Crosby)
  • What A Friend We Have In Jesus (Charles C. Converse-JosephScriven)

CD's

  • The Prima Donna Collection The Essential Leontyne Price
  • A Program Of Songs
  • Leontyne Price Sings Barber
  • Aida (complete opera)
  • La Forza del Destino (complete opera)
  • Porgy and Bess (highlights)
  • II Trovatore (complete highlights)
  • Carmen (complete opera)
  • Aida: A Picture Book for All Ages

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Leontyne Price: A Biography
By Rushaunda Nash (SHS)

Mary Violet Leontyne Price, better known as Leontyne Price, a famous black opera singer, was born in Laurel, Mississippi, on February 10, 1927.  She grew up in Laurel, Mississippi, and graduated from Oak Park High School in 1944 (African American Biography  589).  At an early age Price had an interest for music.  She sang in the choir at St. Paul's Methodist Church in Laurel, Mississippi.  Her mother Kate (Baker) Price, worked as a midwife and also sang in the choir.  Her father James Price worked in a sawmill (African American Bio. 589).

Price began taking piano lessons at the age of five years old.  She presented her first recital when she was only six years old.  Price attended Sandy Gavin Elementary  where she also learned dancing and acrobatics from her third grade teacher.  Price enjoyed performing and many times was the star in school programs.  Although she participated in extra activities,  Price was an outstanding "A" student (Williams 11).  At the age of nine, Rushaunda Nash, SHS researcher Price's mother took her to Jackson, Mississippi, to a concert by Marian Anderson.  This concert inspired Leontyne. (African American Bio. 589).

Price attended Oak Park High School, where she sang first soprano with the Oak Park Choral group.  She played in a numerous of school concerts, church, community programs, and solo recitals, singing and also playing the piano (Williams 13).  Price graduated from Oak Park High School in 1944.  She graduated with honors and also was presented an award for outstanding ability in music (Williams 14).  Price then enrolled at the College of Education and Industrial Arts (Central State College) in Wilberforce, Ohio.  At Central State,  Price studied music education, with the idea to become a music teacher if becoming a performer failed (African American Bio. 590).

Catherine Van Buren, Leontyne's voice coach encouraged Price to continue her training.  With that in mind,  Price competed for and won a four-year scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music in New York City (Williams 17).  Price left for New York in 1949 to attend Juilliard School of Music.  During the four years at Juilliard,  Price studied singing, learned stage presence, acting, and makeup (African American Bio. 590).  She  appeared in many of Juilliard's operatic productions.  During one of her performances she was seen and heard by composer Virgil Thompson.  This performance gave her the start to her career.  Virgil Thompson asked her to sing the role of St. Cecelia in opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, which  was her first appearance as a professional singer (African American Bio. 590).  From then on,  Price began touring the United States and Europe as a professional singer. 

Leontyne Price

Four Saints in Three Acts was very successful and this helped Leontyne to be signed to sing the role of Bess in the folk opera Porgy and Bess (African American Bio. 591).   In 1957 at the San Francisco opera, Price sang in the opera, Dialogues of the Camelites.  By accident Price got the chance to play the first role of  Aida because  the opera singer who was chosen became very ill (African American Bio. 591).  Price got  her chance to sing at the Metropolitan in 1961.  Price's outstanding performance in Verdi's II Trovature at the Met received a standing ovation of forty-two minutes.   Price appeared in 118 Metropolitan Operas between 1961 and 1969 (African American Bio.591). In Samuel Barbers opera, Antony and Cleopatra, Price sang and played the role of Cleopatra. " Tickets for this opera sold out; and the tickets were as much as two hundred and fifty dollars" (Williams 24).

In 1970, Price cut down on her operatic appearances and concentrated on concert recitals and recording sessions.  During Price's career she has won nearly  twenty Grammy Awards.  Price's retirement form the opera stage came in 1985 with the performance of Aida at the Lincoln Center.  Price has also written Aida: A Picture Book for All Ages (African American Bio.591).   Even though Price has retired from the opera stage, she has performed at presidential inaugurations and sung before the Pope.  In 1991 she sang at Carnage Hall's  hundredth anniversary in New York (African American Bio. 591). Williams says of her, "Leontyne Price had a strong desire to be successful opera singer.  This goal , along with her vocal ability and stage personality , has led her to success.  her belief in hard work and deep religious faith have helped her through difficult periods.  The strength of character she has shown during her career marks her as one of America's great women" (Williams 31). Although she is no longer making recordings,  BMG has recently released  a new  boxed set entitled "The Essential Leontyne Price," which includes eleven CD's of  Price's greatest recorded performances (including many rarities), from operatic scenes and arias to art songs to spirituals and sacred songs. She has received many awards during her career.  Two of the most recent are her induction into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame (1999) and the Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award (2000).

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Timeline

1927- Mary Violet Leontyne Price was born in Laurel, Mississippi
1933- began playing piano at the age of 5.
1934- at the age of six performed first recital
1944- Graduated from Oak Park High School; enrolled at the College of Education and Industrial Arts in Wilberforce, Ohio
1949- awarded four-year scholarship for the Juilliard School of Music in New York City
1952- first appearance as a professional singer in opera Four Saints in Three Acts
1952- married William Warfield
1954- made concert debut at Town Hall
1955- appeared in her opera debut on NBC-TV
1957- sang in Dialogues of the Carmelites at the San Francisco opera
1958- European opera debut
1960- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist A Program Of Song
1961- first appearance at the Metropolitan
1963- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Great Scenes from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess
1964- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Beriloz: Nuits d' ete
1965- Presidential medal of Freedom
           Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal soloist for R. Strauss: Scenes & Arias
1966- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Prima Donna
1967- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Prima Donna,Vol.2
1969- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Barber: KnoxvilleLeontyne Price
1970- cut down on opera performances
1971- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Schumann: Songs
1973- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Puccini Heroines
1974- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for R. Strauss
1980- Kennedy Center Honoree
          Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Verdi
1983- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist with Marilyn
1985- retired, with performance of Aida
1987- Image Award from Associated Black Charities
1989- Lifetime Achievement Award, National Academy of recording Arts and Sciences
1990- Essence Award
1991- Sung at the hundredth anniversary of Carnegie Hall in New York
1999- Inducted in Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame
2000- Recipient of Mississippi Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Related Websites

This web site sells the twenty-two albums of  Leontyne Price's music.

This is a great web site by Afrocentric Voices in Classical music that includes biography, awards, and video clips of Price.

Biography and recordings made by Price with Fritz Wunderlich are included here.

African American history site provides info on Price.

An excellent site by a fan about Price.


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Bibliography

Hawkins, Walker L. African American Biographies: Profiles of 588 Current Men and Women. Mc Farland and Company, Inc. 1992.

"Price, Leontyne" African American Biography. Vol. 3 K-R

Williams, Sylvia. Leontyne Price Opera Superstar. Children's Press of Chicago, 1984.

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