Camilla Williams, black opera pioneer, dies at 92

INDIANAPOLIS – Camilla Williams, believed to be the first African-American woman to appear with a major U.S. opera company, has died. She was 92.

Williams died Sunday at her home in Bloomington, her attorney, Eric Slotegraaf, said Monday. She died of complications from cancer, said Alain Barker, a spokesman for the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where Williams was a professor emeritus of voice.

Williams’ debut with the New York City Opera on May 15, 1946, was thought to make her the first African-American woman to appear with a major U.S. opera company and came nearly nine years before Marian Anderson became the first African-American singer to appear at New York’s more prestigious Metropolitan Opera.

A graduate of Virginia State College, she was teaching third grade and music in Danville schools in 1942 when she was offered a scholarship from the Philadelphia Alumni Association of her alma mater for vocal training in Philadelphia.

She sang at the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, D.C., immediately before the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

In 1950 she married Charles Beavers, an attorney whose clients included Malcolm X. He died in 1970.

Williams retired from opera in 1971 and taught at Brooklyn College, Bronx College and Queens College until becoming the first African-American professor of voice at Indiana University.


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