Camilla Williams Voice Scholarship
Camilla Williams was born on October 18, 1919 in Danville, Virginia to Fannie Carey Williams, a laundress, and Cornelius Booker Williams, a chauffeur. Her grandfather was a choir leader and singer. By age eight, she enjoyed playing the piano, and singing at school and in Danville's Calvary Baptist Church.
Williams received her bachelor's degree in music education from Virginia State University, and after graduation, she was was awarded a scholarship to study in Philadelphia with Marion Szekely Freschl, a prestigious voice teacher who taught at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School.
Williams is known worldwide as the first African-American soprano to perform in mainstream theaters and opera companies. She was honored with the Sagamore of the Wabash award at a February 27, 2010 Black History Month Gala organized by the City of Bloomington. In 1946, Williams became the first African-American to sign a regular contract with a major American opera company, as she made her debut with the New York City Opera in the title role of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. In 1951, she sang Bess in the first complete recording of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. She participated in the civil rights March on Washington in 1963 by singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the White House, as well as for 250,000 people before Martin Luther King, Jr. made his "I Have a Dream" speech. In 1954, she became the first African-American to sing a major role with the Viennese State Opera, performing her signature part of Cio-Cio-San.
Williams is also the first African-American Professor of Voice appointed to the voice faculty of Indiana Unviersity in 1977, and in 1984 was the first African-American instructor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China.
She retired from opera singing in 1971 after performing throughout the United States and Europe with some of the world's leading opera companies.
The Camilla Williams Voice Scholarship was established to honor the renowned opera singer, Camilla Williams. The Jacobs School of Music is honored to present the scholarship to undergraduate voice students at the Jacobs School.