The Black Americans who made history through innovative arts and music have paved the way for each generation to come, allowing for more opportunities to fledging young stars. Opera great Camilla Williams, the first Black female to land a contract with a major U.S. opera company, passed away this past weekend at age 92, leaving behind many a broken barrier in her remarkable journey of concert music and grand opera performances.
Upon joining the then start-up company New York City Opera, Williams was cast as Cio-Cio San in the production "Madame Butterfly," a debut performance that introduced her extraordinary vocal gift to audiences across the country. However, many Black pioneers remain unsung heroes, their names and accomplishments having gone unacknowledged.
In spite of this, Williams still understood that negativity had no place on the stage. “The lack of recognition for my accomplishments used to bother me, but you cannot cry over those things,” said Miss Williams, during an 1995 interview with the opera scholar Elizabeth Nash. “There is no place for bitterness in singing. It works on the cords and ruins the voice. In his own good time, God brings everything right.”
Williams legacy will certainly live on through the many Black opera singers able to grace the stage thanks to her courage, grace, and tenacity in a sometimes off-key society. Should Williams be recognized in a larger capacity in the music world? Or, are her achievements more about the music and less about the fame?