Camilla Williams (October 18, 1919 – January 29, 2012).
American operatic soprano; she began performing on the coast-to-coast RCA radio network, and in 1946 became the first African-American to receive a regular contract with a major US opera company, making her debut with the New York City Opera, singing the title role in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. She sang throughout the USA and Europe with various other opera companies and in 1951 sang Bess in the landmark first complete recording of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
In April ‘54 she became the first African-American to sing a major role with the Vienna State Opera when she performed her signature part of Cio-Cio-San. In 1963, she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the White House before 250,000 people in Washington DC preceding Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream”. Camilla also toured in fourteen African countries, Formosa, South Korea, China, Japan, Laos, South Vietnam, the Philippines, New Zealand and Australia. In addition, she was a soloist with the Royal Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Camilla was the first African American Professor of Voice appointed to the voice faculty of what is now known as the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in 1977 and in 1984 was the first African American instructor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China.
In 1995 she was an inaugural recipient of the National Opera Association’s “Lift Every Voice” Legacy Award, honoring the contributions of African Americans to the field of opera and in 1996 was honored as Outstanding African American Singer/Pioneer by Harvard University. In 1997 Camilla Williams became a Professor Emerita of Voice at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.