Grace Bumbry

Grace Melzia Bumbry was the daughter of a railroad porter and a school teacher. At 16, she won a scholarship to the (now long-defunct) St. Louis Institute of Music but was denied admission because. Levine made his Met debut in “Tosca” with Grace Bumbry and Franco Corelli on June 5, 1971. The following February, he became principal conductor for the Met’s 1973-74 season, assisting music. Grace Bumbry, Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Janos Kulka: Grace Bumbry, Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Janos Kulka - Grace Bumbry Singt Grosse Arien Der Internationalen Oper (Album) 8 versions: Deutsche Grammophon: SLPM 138 826: US: 1962: Sell This Version.


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In recitals and concerts around the world, Bumbry continues to tap her repertoire of German lieder, French art songs, and Italian ariasFor 45 years Bumbry has continued to pursue her first love as a concert performer
Invited by First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy to perform as a guest artistThe Kennedy White House / Washington, District of Columbia USA
Performing as herself in concert as part of a 25 show, nine-week tourAmerican concert debut / Carnegie Hall, New York + 21 other cities
Performing as herself in concert European concert debut / London, England UK
Performed in the role of Clytemnestra in Strauss’ ElektraFarewell Performance / Opéra national de Lyon, France
Principal mezzo-soprano and soprano roles in German, French and Italian operaInternational career / the foremost opera houses of the world
Performed in the soprano role of Bess at this debut of a fifty-year old workDebut of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess at The Metropolitan Opera / New York, New York USA
Performed from her operatic repertoire at the gala The Metropolitan Opera Centennial Gala / New York, New York USA
Performed the role of Princess Eboli in Verdi's Don CarlosMetropolitan Opera debut / New York, New York USA
Performed the role of Princess Eboli in Verdi's Don CarlosRoyal Opera House debut / London, England UK
Performed the role of Venus in Wagner's TannhäuserAmerican operatic debut / Chicago Lyric Opera, Chicago, Illinois USA
Mezzo-sopranoBasel Opera / Basel, Switzerland
Performed the role of Venus in Wagner's Tannhäuser, the first black woman to perform there German debut / Bayreuth Festspiel
Performed the role of Amneris in Verdi's AïdaOperatic debut at the Paris Opéra / Paris, France
La principessa Eboli in Verdi’s Don Carlos
Azucena in Verdi’s Il Trovatore
Ulrica in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera
Carmen in Bizet’s Carmen
Dalila in Saint-Saëns Samson et Dalila
Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo et Eurydice
Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma
Herodiade in Massenet’s Herodiade
Didon in Berlioz’s Les Troyens
Cassandre in Berlioz’s Les Troyens
Old Lady in Bernstein’s Candide
Norma in Bellini’s Norma
Sélika in Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine
Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth
Salome in Strauss’ Salome
Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana
Abigaille in Verdi’s Nabucco
Medea in Pacini’s Medea
La Vestale in Spontini’s La Vestale
Jenufa in Janáček’s Jenufa
Gioconda in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda
Ariane in Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-bleue
Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore
Leonora in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino
Tosca in Puccini’s Tosca
Turandot in Puccini’s Turandot
Performer, producerArias & Songs
PerformerVerdi - Don Carlo
Performs the role of CarmenBizet's Carmen - Les tringles des sistres tintaient
Performs the role of CarmenBizet - Carmen
Performer, producerGrace Bumbry: Early Recordings -Oratorio, Opera, Lieder
PerformerMusik aus Opern von Christoph Willibald Gluck
PerformerThe Art of Grace Bumbry
PerformerVoices of our Time
Performer, producer Grace Bumbry Lieder & Arias 1963-1978
PerformerAida - Act IV, Scene 1, Radamès!
PerformerMetropolitan Opera - Centennial Gala
Performer, producerGrace Bumbry - Famous Opera Arias
SoloistGrace Bumbry In Concert
Performed in the role of AmnerisVerdi’s Aïda, Thomas Schippers conducting
Performed in the role of CarmenBizet’s Carmen with the Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan conducting

Accomplishments of note

Appointed: UNESCO Goodwill AmbassadorParis, FranceIn this capacity, Bumbry joins an illustrious group designated UNESCO Celebrity Advocates
Performer: at the opening of the new Opéra BastilleParis, FrancePerformed in the role of Cassandre in Berlioz's Les Troyens
Organizer: Carnegie Hall Concert Honoring Marian Anderson Carnegie Hall / New York, New York USA with Shirley VerrettThe tribute concert honoring Marian Anderson took a year to arrange 
Performer: at the first Kennedy Center Honors as part of a tribute to Marian AndersonWashington, District of Columbia USA with The Kennedy Center for the Performing ArtsThe two had met in 1954 and Anderson had guided her since, including encouraging impresario Sol Hurok to take her on as a client
Soprano debut: after establishing her career as a mezzo-soprano, she added a soprano repertoireVienna Staatsoper / Vienna, Austria Her operatic debut in a soprano role was as Santuzza in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana
New York Debut: The Metropolitan OperaPerformed of Princess Eboli in Verdi's Don Carlos
Headliner: American Tour including her Carnegie Hall concert debutNew York, New York USA and 21 other American cities with Sol Hurok, the legendary impressario Among the 25 concert performances was one for an audience of 3,000 in her hometown of St. Louis
Signer: of a five-year, $250,000 contract for recordings, television appearances, concerts and opera engagements with Sol Hurok
German debut: in the role of Venus in Wagner's TannhauserBayreuth Festival / Bayreuth, Germany with Wieland Wagner, festival director and the composer's grandson, whose first choice she was for the roleBumbry became the first black to ever sing at the festival, creating great controversy, but . Wagner and Bumbry were vindicated by 42 curtain calls on opening-night, which launched her international career

Professional honors and awards

Grace Bumbry
The Kennedy Center HonorsThe John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing ArtsLifetime achievement for elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and the world through classical music
Inducted as Kammersängerin at the National Chancellery in ViennaRepublic of Austria
Premio Giuseppe Verdi Istituto Nazionale di Studi Verdiani / Parma, Italy
Commandeur des Arts et LettresRepublic of France
L’Officier des Arts et LettresRepublic of France
The first Lawrence Tibbett AwardThe American Guild of Musical Artists, which established a scholarship in her name that year
Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the AirThe Metropolitan Opera Shared first prize with soprano Martina Arroyo this last year the competition was held
John Hay Whitney AwardJohn Hay Whitney Foundation Opportunity fellowship for graduate study/training useful in developing talent
Marian Anderson ScholarshipMarian Anderson Scholarship Fund, which awarded scholarships from 1943 through 1972
Arthur Godfrey’s Talent ScoutsThe Arthur Godfrey Show, a pioneer in television variety programming based in New York City1954 Winner for her on-air performance, which brought her a number of scholarship offers
First Prize in a singing competition, at the age of 17Radio station KMOX in St. Louis, Missouri USAThe prize included a $1,000 war bond, a free trip to New York, and a $1,000 scholarship to the St. Louis Institute of Music; segregated, they would not enroll a black student


Community service

UNESCO Paris, FrancePerforms at UNESCO events such as the 'Music for Peace' concert that marked the dawn of the third millennium in 1999

Community honors and awards

Star on the St. Louis Walk of FameSt. Louis Walk of FameMusic
Distinguished Alumna Award Academy of Music of the West
Driving her orange Lamborghini in the 1960-70s


College of Fine Arts, Boston UniversityBoston, Massachusetts USAMusic19511953Attended as a scholarship student, a result of her winning the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts on-air competition
Northwestern UniversityChicago, Illinois USAMusicStudied with Armand Tokatyan and Lotte Lehmann, who thought her a dramatic soprano and mezzo-soprano, respectively; each required different training
University of Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, California USAMaster classes in voice with Lotte Lehmann, following her retirement from a forty-year stage careerInvited by Lehmann, who became a mentor, to spend a scholarship-funded summer studying at the musical academy she had established there, her stay stretched to three-and-a-half years
Native language
Other languages
German, Italian, French

Honorary Degrees

University of Missouri - St. LouisSt. Louis, Missouri USADoctor of Humane Letters
Rockhurst CollegeKansas City, Missouri USADoctor of Music


Vital statistics

Birth information
January 4, 1937
Place of birth
St. Louis, Missouri USA
Marital status
Grace Bumbry


Erwin Andreas Jaeckel


Benjamin James Bumbry
Melzia Bumbry



Grace Bumbry Biography

Artist Biography by Joseph Stevenson


As a youth Grace Melzia Ann Bumbry sang in church choirs. In 1955 she entered Northwestern University, where she studied voice with Lotte Lehman, and transferred with her to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. In 1958 she was joint winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, sharing first place with Martina Arroyo. She won some other prizes, and made her professional debut in a recital in London in 1959. Her first operatic appearance was at the Paris Opéra, as Amneris in Verdi's Aida. It was one of the most spectacular operatic debuts in history; Bumbry became an instant star and was invited to join the roster of the Basle Opera. She made operatic history in 1961 when she was engaged by Wieland Wagner to sing at the Bayreuth Festival and became the first black singer to perform in that shrine of Wagnerian opera. Furthermore, musical historian Nicolas Slomimsky has pointed out that she was the first African American to make a professional operatic as a goddess, for her debut at Bayreuth was as Venus in Tannhäuser, July 23, 1961. Bumbry embarked on a concert tour of the United States and was invited by Jacqueline Kennedy to sing at the White House, on February 20, 1962. She also followed up her smash success at Bayreuth with appearances as Venus at the Chicago Lyric Opera and at Lyons, France.

Is Grace Bumbry Still Alive

Bumbry's 1963 London debut came in the role of Princess Eboli in Verdi's Don Carlos, and she gave her first Metropolitan Opera performance in the same role in 1965. Among the other roles she undertook were those of Lady Macbeth in Verdi's Macbeth and Carmen in Bizet's opera. During the 1960s Bumbry worked on extending her range. In 1970 at the Vienna Staatsoper, she sang the part of Santuzza, making her debut as a soprano. She sang Richard Strauss's Salome at Covent Garden the same year, and her first appearance in Puccini's Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera came in 1971. She maintained her mezzo voice while triumphing in soprano parts, such as Jenufa in Janacek's opera and as Ariane in Dukas' Bluebeard. Between operatic performances she established a fine recital career, stressing the core repertory of German lieder. Her attractions as a performer include a commanding stage presence with an effective and understated acting technique. She has a very warm voice with rich tone quality throughout the mezzo range, although it loses some of its distinctiveness in the very upper part of her soprano register. She is among the few sopranos who have sung both the roles of Aida and Amneris in Aida and both Venus and Elisabeth in Wagner's Tannhäuser.