Leontyne Price remains one of the twentieth century’s most revered opera singers and, notably, the first African American to achieve such international acclaim. In movements encompassing poetry and prose, writer and musician Kevin Simmonds explores Price as an icon, a diva, a woman, and a patriot—and himself as a fan, a budding singer, and a gay man—through passages that move polyphonically through the contested spaces of Black identity, Black sound, Black sensibility, and Black history.
The Met Opera says of our sister, the legend: It is impossible to speak of Price’s Met career without noting that she was the first African American superstar singer—one who was indispensable and around whom the company planned its season repertory. The legendary black contralto Marian Anderson had broken the Met’s color barrier in 1955, but she was at the end of her distinguished career and only sang one role in a handful of performances. As one of the company’s leading prima donnas, Price accompanied the Met on tour, including to several Southern cities where theaters were segregated. Her presence there was an important factor in changing the discriminatory policies. In fact, the rise of her Met career coincided with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and she was proud to be a part of it. Along with her exceptional artistic achievements, it remains part of her remarkable legacy.