Compare and Contrast the lives of Leontyne Price, Marian Anderson, and Kathleen Battle

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In this paper, we will study and compare the biographies and careers of three well-known black opera singers.

Mary Violet Leontyne Price was an American opera singer who was mostly known for her performances in Verdi roles. She played the role of Aida, which was considered to be her signature role for around 30 years.

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Leontyne Price was born near Laurel, Mississippi. Her father worked at a lumber mill, and her mother was a midwife. As the youngest child, she was deeply loved and the pride of her parents. When they noticed her musical talent, they bought her a piano and she began taking lessons.

Later on, Leontyne pursued a teaching career and enrolled in an education program at Central State University. However, she ended up studying voice instead. The well-known bass Paul Robeson helped her become a student at the Julliard School in New York where Florence Page Kimball became her teacher.

She first performed on stage during a student performance of Falstaff.

The composer, Virgil Thomson, heard Leontyne Price’s voice and invited her to take part in his all-black opera, Four Saints in Three Acts. After the Broadway performance, when Saints went to Paris, her life started to change tremendously. Producers Robert Breen and Blevins Davis offered her the role of Bess in Porgy and Bess. The performance toured through Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh where Price’s singing and acting were a great success. During the tour, Price married William Warfield who played the role of Porgy. Unfortunately, their careers didn’t give them the chance for a long life together and they were officially divorced in 1972.

In 1954, she made her debut at Town Hall where Barber accompanied her in performing “Hermit Songs”. The following year, she participated in the concert performance of Giulio Cesare at the same venue. Many critics praised Price’s voice for its suitability for opera singing on a big stage.

In 1955, Price was scheduled to perform Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca for NBC-TV. Olin Downes of the Times wrote that during the performance, Price’s voice was superbly equal to all demands made upon it,” showcasing her dramatic upper register, warm and sensuous tone, as well as her sincere and emotional delivery. (Peter G. Davis, 12).

The opera house debut for Price took place in San Francisco in 1957, where she played the role of Madame Lidoine in Dialogues des Carmelites.

In 1958, on May 24th, she made her debut as Aida at the Vienna State Opera. Later that same year, she once again debuted as Aida, this time at London’s Royal Opera House during the summer. Two years later, she made history by becoming the first black singer to play a leading role in an Italian opera – once again as Aida.

In 1961, Price began her work at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (Met). Over the course of 24 seasons, she participated in 201 performances and played 16 different roles.

Another important period in the singer’s career is connected with her portrayal of Cleopatra in the 1966 production of Antony and Cleopatra.

The decline of Leontyne Price’s career probably started after the 1970s when she was unable to find new productions in the Metropolitan Opera that were appropriate for her. She revised her role of Aida in San Francisco and at the Met several times. After 1985, she mostly worked on recitals and concerts. In 1997, she wrote a children’s version of Aida which later served as the basis for a musical by Elton John and Tim Rice in 2000.

In October of 2001, Price came out of retirement at age 74 to sing at Carnegie Hall for a memorial concert honoring victims of the September 11 attacks. She performed This Little Light of Mine,” accompanied by James Levine on piano, followed by an unaccompanied rendition of “God Bless America.” Her performance was capped with a perfectly placed high B-flat note that “unfurled from the stage like Old Glory itself” (Peter G. Davis, 22).

Marian Anderson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1897 according to her birth certificate. However, she considered her birth year as 1902. She had two younger sisters. Her father worked as a loader at the Reading Terminal Market, and her mother was a teacher.

Her life and career were different from Price’s. When Marian’s father died because of a head wound, Anna Anderson had to take additional jobs to raise her three daughters.

Marian’s musical career started when she entered the church choir at the age of six where she got the nickname The Baby Contralto.” Her father managed to buy a piano for her, but there was no money for music lessons for the girl; thus, she had to acquire it herself.

When Marian was thirteen years old, she entered the senior choir at church. Soon enough, other churches started inviting her and paying around five dollars per performance.

In 1919, Marian had the opportunity to sing at the National Baptist Convention. At the age of 15, she began taking lessons from the renowned black soprano Mary Sanders Patterson. Following a benefit concert, she received $500 from the Philadelphia Choral Society to study under well-known contralto Agnes Reifsnyder.

After completing her education, she continued to sing at black colleges and churches, earning only about $100 per concert.

In 1924, Marian attempted to sing at New York’s Town Hall. Unfortunately, not many people attended the concert and critics were not impressed with her voice. This was a significant setback for Marian, and she decided to abandon her music career altogether. However, in 1925 she participated in the Philadelphia Philharmonic Society competition and later won the Lewisohn Stadium contest.

In 1928, she had a successful solo recital at Carnegie Hall. However, she continued to primarily perform for black audiences as a singer.

With the help of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Marian received a grant to study in England. From 1933 to 1934, she had the opportunity to participate in concerts throughout Scandinavia. This was followed by several concerts across Europe and culminated with her participation in an international festival in Salzburg.

In 1935, Marian received a second chance to perform at Town Hall in New York, and this time it was a success. In July of 1943, Marian married Orpheus H. Fisher, a Delaware architect whom she had known since childhood. They lived on her Marianna Farm” in Connecticut. Throughout World War II and the Korean War, Marian entertained troops in hospitals and bases (Tedards, Anne, 48).

In 1957, Marian embarked on a long journey to the Far East, where she performed around 24 concerts.

Marian Anderson’s final concert was held in 1965 at Carnegie Hall. Throughout her career, she received numerous awards and prizes, including a $10,000 prize that she used to establish the Marian Anderson Scholarships. Although her career did not progress as rapidly as Leontyne Price’s, she persevered and reached the pinnacle of fame.

Marian passed away in 1993 at the age of 96.

Kathleen Battle was born in 1948 in Portsmouth, Ohio. She came from a rather large family and was the youngest of seven children. From the very beginning, she pursued music education rather than performance. She taught music and took private voice lessons herself. Her first performance invitation was to the Festival of Two Worlds in Italy in 1972, which propelled her music career forward. The 1980s brought further development of her talent.

In 1987, Kathleen accepted Karajan’s invitation to sing at Vienna’s New Year’s Day concert. She portrayed opera ingenues and heroines such as Pamina in Mozart’s Die Zauberfloete, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, and Adina in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore (Eva Abshe, 2). Kathleen was versatile enough to sing sacred and spiritual music as well as jazz. She sang the song Lovers” for the movie House of Flying Daggers and worked with many well-known artists. In 1992, she produced the album Baroque Duet together with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Kathleen was always looking to develop her skills and talent. Together with other musicians, she created her first crossover album – So Many Stars” – as a collection of folk songs and spiritual music. She received several Grammy Awards for her numerous live concert recordings.

Battle became famous for her contributions to classical music through numerous concerts, operas, and TV shows. Despite initially only having a strong connection to music on an emotional level, she went on to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the College Conservatory of Music. She also received six doctoral degrees from universities such as the University of Cincinnati and Ohio University.

Overall, the three life and career stories of black singers that we have described above have a lot in common, but they also represent three different destinies and personalities. There is no doubt that all three women were incredibly talented and great singers. Their careers were successful, and their names occupy honorary places in the history of opera music. However, due to their different backgrounds and financial conditions – for example, Price was an only daughter whose parents could afford to provide her with music education and support her talent from the very beginning. On the other hand, Marian had to overcome financial difficulties herself and fight for her fame and success starting from singing in churches for free – their career paths took different directions.

Kathleen started by teaching music before later developing her singing skills. Additionally, she was not just an opera singer; she produced jazz albums and even lullabies. All three women – actresses, singers, great musicians – had to go through some difficulties in their lives as well as declines in their careers. Nevertheless, the names of Price, Anderson, and Battle will be associated with great talents, enormous love for music as well as strong wills & personalities for a long time.


1. Anderson, Marian. My Lord, What a Morning: An Autobiography. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. Also published by University of Illinois Press in 2002.

2. Eva Absher and Kathleen Battle performed in New York in 1998.

3. Peter G. Davis, The American Opera Singer, Doubleday, 1997.

Peter G. Davis wrote The American Opera Singer: The Lives and Adventures of America’s Great Singers in Opera and Concert from 1825 to the Present” which was published by Anchor in 1999.

5. Tedards, Anne. Marian Anderson. New York: Chelsea House Publications, 1988.

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Compare and Contrast the lives of Leontyne Price, Marian Anderson, and Kathleen Battle. (2016, Sep 08). Retrieved from

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