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Grace Bumbry
Biographical Information

Birth Date:January 4, 1937
Astrology Sign:Capricron
Chinese Sign:Rat - Yin
Birth Name:
Birth Place:

Occupation:Classical/Opera singer

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Grace Bumbry

Biography:Grace Bumbry (born 4 January 1937) was one of the leading mezzo-sopranos of her generation -- although often a controversial singer. Bumbry began her career initially as a mezzo-soprano, but later expanded her repertoire to include many dramatic soprano roles. In the 1970's to 1980's, she labeled herself as a soprano; but in the 1990's, as her career approached its twilight, she often returned to mezzo roles. The voice was sizeable, possessing a wide range, and was capable of producing a plangent, bronze-hued tone that was very distinctive.

Bumbry was born in St Louis, Missouri, in a family of modest means. In a BBC radio interview, she recalled that her father was a railroad porter and her mother, a housewife. She graduated from the prestigious Charles Sumner High School (the first black high school west of the Mississippi). She first won a radio competition at age 17, singing Verdi's demanding aria "O don fatale" (from 'Don Carlo'). One of the prizes she won was a scholarship to the local music conservatory; however, as the institution was segregated, it would not accept a Black student. Embarrassed, the radio station arranged for her to study at Boston University. She later transferred to Northwestern University, where she met the famous German dramatic soprano Lotte Lehmann, with whom she later studied at the Music Academy of the West, in Santa Barbara, California, and who became her mentor in her early career. In 1958, she was a joint winner of the Metropolitan Opera auditions, with soprano Martina Arroyo. Bumbry made her operatic debut in 1960 when she sang Amneris at the Paris Opéra; that same year she joined the Basel Opera. She gained international renown when she was cast by Wieland Wagner (Richard Wagner's grandson) as Venus at Bayreuth in 1961, the first Black singer to appear there. The cast also included Victoria de los Angeles as Elisabeth and Wolfgang Windgassen as Tannhäuser. Conservative Germans were appalled, and the ensuing furore made her a cause célèbre internationally. She was subsequently invited by Jacqueline Kennedy to sing at the White House. Having begun her operatic career on such a high note, hers was a rare one in which she never sang small or comprimario roles.

Bumbry made her Royal Opera House, Covent Garden debut in 1963; her La Scala debut in 1964; and her Metropolitan Opera debut as Princess Eboli in Verdi's Don Carlo in 1965. In 1964, Bumbry appeared for the first time as a soprano, singing Verdi's Lady MacBeth in her debut at the Vienna State Opera. In 1966, she appeared as Carmen in a celebrated production by Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg. In the 1970's, she began taking on more soprano roles, including Strauss's Salome at Covent Garden, and Tosca at the Met; and more unusual roles, such as Janacek's Jenufa (in Italian) at La Scala in 1974 (with Magda Olivero as the Kostelnicka), Dukas's Ariane et Barbe-bleue in Paris in 1975, and Sélika in Meyerbeer's 'L'Africaine' at Covent Garden in 1978 (opposite Plácido Domingo as Vasco). Like many in her generation, she aspired to emulate Maria Callas and undertook many dramatic soprano roles associated with the Greek diva, such as Norma, Medea, Abigaille and Gioconda. She first sang Norma in 1977 in Martina Franca, Italy; the following year, she sang both Norma and Adalgisa in the same production at Covent Garden: first as the younger priestess opposite Montserrrat Caballé as Norma; later, as Norma, with Josephine Veasey as Adalgisa.

Other noted soprano roles included: Santuzza, Cassandre, Chimène (in 'Le Cid'), Elisabeth (in 'Tannhäuser'), Elvira (in 'Ernani'), Leonora (in both 'Il Trovatore' and 'Forza del Destino'), Aida, Turandot and Bess. Other major mezzo-soprano roles in her repertory included: Dalila, Didon (in 'Les Troyens'), Massenet's Hérodiade, Laura, Adalgisa, Ulrica, Azucena, Orfeo, Poppea and Baba the Turk. In 1991, at the opening of the new Bastille Opera, she appeared as Cassandre, with Shirley Verrett as Didon. Due to a strike at the opera, Verrett was unable to perform at the re-scheduled last performance (this is recounted in Verrett's autobiography), and Bumbry sang both Cassandre and Didon in the same evening. Her last operatic appearance was as Klytämnestra in Richard Strauss's 'Elektra' in Lyon, in 1997. She has since devoted herself to teaching and judging international competitions; and to the concert stage, giving a series of recitals in 2001 and 2002 in honor of her teacher, Lotte Lehmann. A DVD of the recital at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris was later issued by TDK.

Of her recorded legacy, there's much from her mezzo period, including 2 Carmens and 2 Amneris, Venus, Eboli and Orfeo. There are no commercially released complete operas with her in a soprano role, except for live performances of 'Le Cid,' 'Jenufa' and 'Norma,' but there are some commercial compilations that include arias in the soprano repertoire. Interestingly enough, some of these were recorded in her "mezzo" period, in the 1960's (including excerpts of 'La Forza del Destino' in German, with Bumbry as Leonora, and Nicolai Gedda as Alvaro).

She has been inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Among other honors, she was bestowed the UNESCO Award, the Distinguised Alumna Award from the Academy of Music of the West, Italy's Premio Giuseppe Verdi, and was named Commandeur des Arts et Lettres by the French Government.

For interviews with Bumbry, go to:

(the latter in German only)

An article in the OperaNews magazine, by playwright Albert Innaurato can be found at:

Chinese Horoscope for Grace Bumbry
Includes characteristics and Vices
Grace Bumbry's Chinese Horoscope
Chinese Year: January 24, 1936 - February 10, 1937
Birthday: January 4, 1937

The Rat is a Yin,
and is the First sign of the Chinese horoscope.

Intellectual Skill
Thirst for Power

Personality and Character Cards:
Personality and character cards are identical!

Grace Bumbry's Personality Tarot Card The Chariot - Personality Card

Birthday: January 4, 1937

A struggle or conflict, yet strong potential for triumph over adversity.

This year's Growth Tarot Card
Based on this year's birthday

Grace Bumbry's Growth Tarot Card The Tower

Birthday: January 4, 2018

Rigid or imprisioning structures need to be torn down and replaced with the new.




Portions of famous people database was used with permission from Russell Grant from his book The Book of Birthdays Copyright © 1999, All rights reserved. Certain biographical material and photos licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, from Wikipedia, which is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

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