Helen Phillips, First Black Performer With Metropolitan Opera, Dies

Classic Arts News   Helen Phillips, First Black Performer With Metropolitan Opera, Dies
 
Soprano Helen Phillips, the first black singer known to perform with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, died July 27, the New York Times reports. She was 86, and died of heart failure.

According to the Times, Phillips recalled that the integration of the chorus in 1947 was essentially accidental, and that she "just slipped in." Her agent had been told to send his best soprano, but the stage manager was unprepared for an African American to show up. She later said that he looked at her twice, and then told her to get ready.

Jeff McMillan, the Met's archivist, confirmed for the paper there had been no policy preventing blacks from performing at the Met, but that Phillips was indeed the first.

Phillips, born in St. Louis, also made concert appearances in Austria and West Germany for the State Department after World War II, made her Town Hall debut in 1953, and was in a 1954 City Center production of Show Boat.


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