Leontyne Price

Leontyne Price
Photo by Michael G. Stewart


"This award is visible evidence to the world of the esteem in which we as a nation hold opera. It was a long journey from my hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, to the capital of the greatest country in the world. I thank everyone who was involved in my selection and I share this recognition with everyone who helped me along the way. They have my sincerest thanks and appreciation. I am still almost speechless." There are very few singers with voices that are as instantly recognizable, and revered, as the rich, creamy lyric soprano of Leontyne Price. She continues to be a powerful advocate not only for the art she loves, but for human rights. Born in Laurel, Mississippi in 1927, Price played the piano early on and soon began to sing at church and school. When she was 9 years old, she heard Marian Anderson in concert; that, Price has said, "was what you might call the original kickoff" for her pursuit of what became an astonishing vocal career. Although her 1961 debut as Leonora in Verdi's Il Trovatore at the Metropolitan Opera instantly made her a legend -- and landed her on the cover of Time magazine -- she was already well known to opera audiences in cities such as San Francisco and Vienna (where, at the invitation of Herbert von Karajan, she made her debut as Aida in 1959). Price has made a long career in opera, concert and recital. Though she is best known as a Verdi and Puccini singer, she has always embraced the work of American composers, particularly Samuel Barber. She gave the premiere of his Hermit Songs at New York City's Town Hall in 1954, with the composer at the piano, and Barber went on to write many pieces for her. In 1997, Price introduced children to one of opera's greatest heroines in her book Aida. Her scores of awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964), the Kennedy Center Honors (1980), the National Medal of the Arts (1985), the National Association of Black Broadcasters Award (2002), the French Order of Arts and Letters, the Italian Order of Merit, 19 Grammys and three Emmys.

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