Opera Singer Gloria Davy, 81

Gloria Davy, a Brooklyn-born soprano who was the first African-American to sing Aida with the Metropolitan Opera, died on Nov. 28 in Geneva, Switzerland. She was 81.

Gloria Davy, a Brooklyn-born soprano who was the first African-American to sing Aida with the Metropolitan Opera, died on Nov. 28 in Geneva, Switzerland. She was 81. Before Davy was cast in the role, Aida, an Ethiopian princess, was perennially sung by white singers in dark makeup. A lirico-spinto (which denotes a high voice that is darker and more forceful than a lyric soprano’s), Davy performed mainly in Europe from the 1960s onward. She was equally known as a recitalist. She was praised by critics for the beauty of her voice, the sensitivity of her musicianship and the perfection of her pianissimos — the art of attaining maximum audibility at minimum volume. The daughter of parents who had come to the United States from St. Vincent in the Windward Islands, Davy was born on March 29, 1931. Her father worked as a token clerk in the New York City subway system. She graduated from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan and in 1951 and in 1952 received the Marian Anderson Award. The prize for young singers was established in 1943 by Anderson, the first Black singer to appear at the Met. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1953 from the Juilliard School, Davy embarked on a career as a concert singer. That May, she replaced Leontyne Price as Bess in an international tour of “Porgy and Bess,” providing her with her first significant stage experience. When Davy first sang at the Met, she was only the fourth African-American to appear there, after Anderson, a contralto, and Robert McFerrin, a baritone, both of whom made their debuts in 1955, and the soprano Mattiwilda Dobbs, who first sang there the next year. African-American soprano Camilla Williams, who died this year, had made her debut with the New York City Opera in 1946. For decades she had made her home in Geneva, returning to the United States periodically to perform and teach. She was on the faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University from 1984 to 1997. Survivors include a son, Jean-Marc Penningsfeld.
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