Shirley Verrett was an African-American operatic mezzo-soprano. Verrett enjoyed great fame from the late 1960s through the 1990s, particularly well known for singing the works of Verdi and Donizetti.
Verrett was born into a family of devout Seventh-day Adventists faith in New Orleans, Louisiana on May 31, 1931. She was raised in Los Angeles, California. She sang in church and showed early musical abilities, but initially, a singing career was frowned upon by her family.
Verrett went on to study with Anna Fitziu and with Marion Szekely Freschl at the Juilliard School in New York. In 1961 she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
In 1957, Verrett made her operatic debut in Britten’s The R*ped of Lucretia. In 1958, she made her New York City Opera debut as Irina in Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars. In 1959, she made her European debut in Cologne, Germany in Dmitri Nabokov’s Rasputins Tod.
Beginning in the late 1970s she began to tackle soprano roles, including Selika in L’Africaine, Judith in Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, Lady Macbeth Macbeth, and Madame Lidoine in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites (Met1977).
In 1996, Verrett joined the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance as a Professor of Voice and the James Earl Jones University Professor of Music.
In 2003, Shirley Verrett published a memoir, I Never Walked Alone (ISBN 0-471-20991-0), in which she spoke frankly about the racism she encountered as a black person in the American classical music world. Verrett died in Ann Arbor, Michigan, aged 79, on November 5, 2010.
New York Times