Melodic Voices: Five Black Opera Singers 

Each of these singers are known for their beautiful, powerful voices that stand out to create a unique sound!

In truth, this list only goes over a few Black opera singers. There are still so many more singers to learn about. Allow this list to serve as an introduction to Black singers in opera and terms in the opera world! 

Terms to Know Before Reading!* 

Opera: A drama set to music and made up of vocal pieces with orchestral accompaniment and orchestral overtures. 

Soprano: The highest singing voice.

A person with this voice can sing high notes! Think of the calls of a dolphin.

Mezzo-Soprano: A range between soprano and contralto.

A person with this voice can sing notes lower than a soprano and high notes too. Imagine a cat’s meow that could also be the call of a dolphin. A dolphin cat?

Contralto: A singing voice having a range between tenor and mezzo-soprano.   

Remember the cat’s meow? This person is able to sing the lower parts that a soprano cannot.

Tenor : the highest natural singing voice behind soprano for lower tones.

A tenor sounds like a fox since this person can sing tones higher than bass but lower than an alto or contralto.

Baritone: A singing voice between bass and tenor. 

Imagine the barks of a basset hound. A baritone is a person who can match the low tones of a bass voice and the high tones of a tenor.

Bass: the lowest singing voice.

The bass voice resembles elephants the most! Someone with a bass voice is able to sing very low notes.

*Definitions provided by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  

Black Opera Singers of the Past and Present

Jessye Norman

Photo by Shawn Miller. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Website.


Jessye Norman (1945 – 2019) was an operatic soprano born in Augusta, Georgia. She could sing a wide vocal range from contralto to high soprano. Norman was a five-time Grammy Award winner with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award among them. Norman is known for her universality in opera and her list of distinguished accomplishments that followed her whole career.  

Listen to Jessye Norman’s performance of Amazing Grace in this tribute performance for actor Sidney Poitier:

Lawrence Brownlee

Image courtesy of artist’s website.


Lawrence Brownlee (b. 1972) is an operatic tenor born in Youngstown, Ohio. Brownlee sings in a bel canto style (singing with a rich tone and smooth phrasing). Brownlee stands out as a leading talent for today’s opera, especially as he uses his voice not only for singing but also to advocate for diversity in classical music. His solo recital that debuted in 2020, Cycles of My Being, received critical acclaim and focused on the Black male experience in America.  

Listen to this performance of Lawarence Brownlee singing in his signature bel canto style:


William Warfield

Image courtesy of artist’s website.


William Warfield (1920 – 2002) was a concert baritone born in West Helene, Arkansas. People recognize Warfield by his work as a soloist, recitalist, actor, and narrator. His work broke many racial barriers as his distinguished career created a path for future Black singers. Also notable is Warfield’s work in roles such as Porgy in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and Joe the Dock Hand in Showboat.  

  Listen to this performance of William Warfield singing “Ol’ Man River” from Showboat:

Martina Arroyo

Photo by Jen Joyce Davis. Courtesy of artist’s website.


Martina Arroyo (b. 1937) is an operatic soprano born in New York City, specifically in Harlem. Over Arroyo’s esteemed career, she has received a 2013 Kennedy Center Honors and a 2010 Opera Honors Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Although retired, Arroyo has left her mark on opera and truly stands out as a worldwide talent.  

Listen to this performance with Maritna Arroyo (left) and Oralia Dominguez (Right):

Leontyne Price

Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images Image courtesy of


Leontyne Price (b. 1927) is a soprano born in Laurel, Mississippi. The operatic world recognizes Price for being the first black performer in leading roles with the Metropolitan Opera. Another notable role from Price’s career is Bess, whom she played opposite William Warfield in Porgy and Bess. Price’s resonant, lyrical abilities in opera have given her success all throughout her career and admiration all around the world.

Listen to Leontyne Price’s performance as she sings Ave Maria:

Curious to know about other Black musicians? Check out this blog about five Black composers who changed history!