Lyric soprano Leontyne Price was born on February 10, 1927, in Laurel, Mississippi. Price debuted on Broadway in April 1952. Her successful career took her to leading opera houses around the world and brought eighteen Grammy awards as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
We should not have a tin cup out for something as important as the arts in this country, the richest in the world. Creative artists are always begging, but always being used when it’s time to show us at our best.
Leontyne Price, quoted in Brian Lanker, I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1989, p44.
The granddaughter of two Methodist ministers, Price began singing in church. Her parents encouraged her musical inclination at home. When she was five or six years old, they purchased a toy piano. “I was center stage,” Price remembered, “from the time I received that toy piano…I had the disease then…”1
As a young girl, Price heard legendary contralto Marian Anderson perform. “When I saw this wonderful woman come from the wings in this white satin dress,” she remembered, “I knew instantly: one of these days, I’m going to come out of the wings…The light dawned. It was a magic moment.”2
After graduating from the College of Education and Industrial Arts (now Central State College) in Wilberforce, Ohio, Price attended The Juilliard School of Music (founded as the Institute of Musical Art and now known as The Juilliard School), an internationally known school of the performing arts in New York City. She sang the role of Bess in Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in New York City from 1952-54 and made her operatic debut at the San Francisco Opera in 1957. Despite the praise of European critics and enormous popularity at home, Price did not appear at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City until January 27, 1961. She performed there regularly, however, after her triumphant debut performance in Il Trovatore.
Price made other tours that included Australia and Argentina’s Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires in 1969. In the 1970s, she drastically cut the number of her opera performances, preferring to focus instead on her first love, recitals, in which she enjoyed the challenge of creating several characters on stage in succession. In 1985, Price gave her final performance at New York’s Lincoln Center in the title role of Verdi’s Aida; she was fifty-seven years old.
- Learn more about famous American singers and entertainers. Read Today in History features on Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Carol Channing, Mahalia Jackson, and Lillian Russell. Among the men represented are Frank Sinatra, W. C. Handy, George M. Cohan, Orson Welles and John Houseman, and Louis Jordan.
- Examine part of the manuscript score-sketch of Porgy and Bess. Visit the Imagination section of American Treasures of the Library of Congress and scroll down to the section entitled “Music, Theatre, and Dance” to find this and other treasures from the theater world.
- Explore images of The Juilliard School, Price’s alma mater. Search the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection on Juilliard to see more than 100 photographs of set design and costumes used in productions sponsored by this respected institution.
- View images of Laurel, Mississippi, the birthplace of Leontyne Price. Search the Locations listing in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives collection.
- Search on Leontyne Price in the pictorial collections to find other images of this performer.