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William Warfield (Baritone)

Born: January 22, 1920 - West Helena, Arkansas, USA
Died: August 25, 2002 - Chicago, Illinois, USA

The black American baritone and teacher, William Warfield, was born to a family of sharecroppers. He studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, receiving Bachelor of Music in 1942. Following service in the USA Army, he returned to Eastman in 1946 to pursue graduate training. After further studies with Otto Herz and Yves Tinayre, he completed his training with Rosa Ponselle (1958-1965).

From 1947 William Warfield appeared in New York theatres. By the time he was 30 years old, he had won rave reviews in a sensational debut at New York's Town Hall in March 1950. After a concert tour in Australia of 1950, he sang Joe in Showboat in New York in 1951. In 1952-1953 he toured Europe as Porgy in Porgy and Bess. He continued to sing in musicals and operas in the USA and abroad, and also made concert tours of Africa and Middle East (1956), Europe (with the Philadelphia Orchestra, 1956), and Asia (1958). In the course of a career that has spanned more than half a century, his incomparable voice and charismatic personality have electrified the stages of six continents and earned him the title of ‘America's Musical Ambassador.’

It is a career that has witnessed both social ferment and show-business revolution. In William Warfield's uncommonly personal memoir, {My Music & My Life}, Warfield has written a unique history of 20th America. The panorama of his life and art embraces the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement, the big-studio era of Hollywood and the innovation of television drama, his marriage to Leontyne Price (they were married in 1952, but divorced in 1974), and his stage and screen roles in Porgy and Bess and Show Boat.

William Warfield is a consummate oratorio singer. He has appeared with great orchestras and great conductors, all of whom have applauded his musicianship. Television and film have recorded his triumphs as singer and actor. Critical opinion regards him as one of the great singer-actors of the 20th century.

In 1974 William Warfield became a teacher at the University of Illinois. In 1984 he was elected as President of the National Association of Negro Musicians, a post he held until 1990. He joined the Board of the Schiller Institute in 1996 and has been engaged in the efforts of the Schiller Institute to revive a movement for a National Conservatory of Music, first pioneered at the beginning of the century by Antonin Dvorak. He has also worked extensively in voice-training master classes with the Schiller Institute. His skill in developing the student's ability to convey the meaning of a passage--be it drama, poetry or music--and its consequent correct phrasing, as being the key to achieving the “technical” solutions required for beautiful singing and recitation, can only be described as electrifying. He is considered as is one of the world's leading experts on Negro Spirituals and German Lieder.

Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Schiller Institute Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (April 2002)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Bach Aria Group


Aria from BWV 159

Pablo Casals


BWV 244 [Not Yet Released]

Links to other Sites

William Warfield Biography (Schiller Institute)
William Warfield (Riverwalk)
Institute for Music Leadership - William Warfield Partnership (Eastman School of Music)
William Warfield is acclaimed throughout the world (Music Festival Miami)
William Warfield (Centerstage Chicago)
Great Performances: Porgy and Bess - Meet the Artists: An Interview with William Warfield
William Warfield (Scriptorium)

A Dialogue on the African-American Spiritual: With William Warfield & Sylvia Olden Lee
Biography of the Week: William Warfield
William Warfield To Perform With Ku Symphonic Band
William Warfield, Baritone
Biography of William Warfield (Canti Classics)
William Warfield [Photo]
Dr William Warfield – bass vocalist
BiosPage – Norfolk Chamber Music Festival

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