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Black News and News Makers in History: Mattiwilda Dobbs

African American news from Pasadena - celebrates This Week in African American HistoryMattiwilda Dobbs was the first African American to sing a La Scala in Milan, Italy—and the first African American woman to be offered a long term contract by New York's Metropolitan Opera Company.

She was born July 11, 1925 to influential parents in Atlanta's African American community. Following family custom, by age seven she was taking piano lessons and singing in the church choir. At Spelman College, she studied voice. Recognizing her talent, her father funded further studies in New York where she won awards, scholarships, and a fellowship allowing her to study in Europe.

In 1951, she won the International Music Competition in Geneva, Switzerland. Her tours throughout Europe included La Scala in 1953. She first appeared in America in 1954, singing at a New York recital, then debuted with the San Francisco Opera in 1955 and, in 1956, she debuted with the Metropolitan Opera and sang 29 performances in over eight seasons. She refused to perform for segregated audiences. In her home town, it was 1962—the year Atlanta was desegregated--when she finally performed before a large audience. Through the late 1990s, she continued to give recitals.

In 1974, after retiring from the stage, she taught at the University of Texas, where she was the first African American artist on the faculty. She also taught at Spelman College. In 1979, she was awarded an honorary doctorate. She went on to teach as professor of voice at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and served on the Metropolitan Opera board and on one of the National Endowment of the Arts recital panels.

A coloratura soprano is defined as a female voice with an 'upper extension' of high notes and a light quality or color which allows the voice to be capable of rapid and highly ornamented passages. Coloratura can also be defined as singing which pertains to great feats of agility - fast singing, high singing, trills, and embellishments. Dobbs' voice fit these descriptions and was known for its beautiful tone.

Compiled from various resources including Wikipedia.

 
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