Opera singer Ruby Pearl Elzy was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, on February 20, 1908 to Charlie and Emma Elzy. Her father abandoned the family when Ruby was 5 years old, in 1913. Her mother supported Ruby and her three sisters by taking on multiple jobs. Ruby began singing in her church.
Ruby attended a one-room school house in Pontotoc at the school her mother taught.
Ruby attended Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, when, as a freshman, a visiting professor from Ohio State, Dr. Charles McCracken, heard her singing. He was so amazed by her voice, that he worked with her to get her enrolled in Ohio State, where he became her mentor.
Ruby started at Ohio State in September of 1927 where she studied voice. While she was initially not able to read music, when she graduated in June of 1930, she was able to read and write music, play the piano, and sing in four languages.
After graduation, Ruby went on to study at Juilliard School of Music in New York. During this time, she debuted on Broadway in the chorus of Brown Buddies and began to sing on the radio. Ruby had her film debut in 1933 in the film The Emperor Jones, when she was cast in the role of Dolly. She graduated Juilliard in 1934.
She was the first opera singer to play Serena in Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin. The opera debuted in 1935. Ruby was best known for this role and her over 800 performances as Serena.
In 1936, Ruby Elzy sang in her first concert with the New York Philharmonic with George Gershwin.
In 1937, Elzy sang at the White House during the Roosevelt administration at Eleanor Roosevelt’s luncheon for the wives of U.S. Supreme Court Justices.
Elzy died in 1943 in Detroit, Michigan, at the age of 35 following surgery.
- 1908 – Born in Pontotoc, MS
- 1927 – Attended Rust College
- 1927 – Entered Ohio State
- 1930 – Graduated Ohio State
- 1930 – Attended Juilliard School of Music
- 1933 – Cast as Dolly in The Emperor Jones
- 1934 – Graduated from Juilliard
- 1934 – Gave a series of concerts across Mississippi
- ?? – Married Gardner Johnson, Jr.
- 1935 – Cast as Serena in Porgy and Bess
- 1936 – Sang with New York Philharmonic
- 1937 – Sang at Town Hall in New York
- 1937 – Sang at the White House by invitation of Eleanor Roosevelt
- 1938 – Moved to Hollywood
- 1940 – Married Jack Carr
- 1940 – Concert tour in Mississippi
- 1941 – Appeared in the film Birth of the Blues
- 1942 – Returned to Broadway in Porgy and Bess
- 1943 – Passed away
- 2000 – Inducted into Mississippi Music Hall of Fame
- Video by author of Elzy’s biography. 2019
- Afrocentric Voices: Ruby Elzy
- The Sweet Sounds of Ruby Elzy, NPR Music, 2012
- Ruby Elzy’s IMDb page
- Interview with David E Weaver: The Mississippi Magnolia Ruby Elzy
- Ruby Elzy memorial district set in Pontotoc, June 28, 2015. Daily Journal
- Ohio State School of Music: The Ruby Elzy Story