Black Opera Pioneer, Camilla Williams, Dies At 92

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INDIANAPOLIS — African-American opera pioneer Camilla Williams has died in Bloomington. She was 92.

Williams’ attorney, Eric Slotegraaf, said in a statement that the soprano died Sunday.

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music spokesman Alain Barker said Williams died of complications from cancer.

The school says Williams became the first African-American female to appear with a major U.S. opera company when she debuted on May 15, 1946, with New York City Opera in the title role of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.”

She became the first African-American professor of voice at IU in 1977 and retired in 1997.

Williams was born in Danville, Va., on Oct. 18, 1919, the daughter of a chauffeur. Her grandfather was a singer and choir leader, and by age 8 she was singing in Danville’s Calvary Baptist Church.

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