From singing radio commercials to achieving international fame as a soprano opera singer, Beverly Sills devoted her life to performing, making her singing debut at the age of two. During her career she performed in more than 90 opera roles. She ended her singing career in 1980 claiming that she wanted to "put my voice to bed so it will go quietly, with pride."
Beverly Sills was born Belle Miriam Silverman to parents of Russian-Jewish descent. She won first prize in the Miss Beautiful Baby of 1932 contest singing "The Wedding of Jack and Jill." Recognizing Beverly's talents, her mother sent her to dance, piano, and voice lessons, the latter at the age of seven with popular singer Estelle Leibling. Sills did several radio commercials and a show on WOR radio called Uncle Bob's Rainbow House, where she had a singing and tap dancing routine. In 1938, she sang and tap danced in the film Uncle Sol Solves It.
At the age of 12, Sills temporarily "retired" from singing to pursue an education. She attended the P.S. 91 School and Erasmus High School in Brooklyn. After completing high school she went to Manhattan's Professional Children's School.
Sills re-entered the public realm in 1945 with the help of producer J.J. Schubert. She received many brief roles which eventually led to her starring in three operettas, Rose Marie, Countess Maritza, and The Merry Widow. Roles in these operettas led to her grand opera debut in 1947 in Georges Bizet's Carmen. With her father's death in 1949, Sills began touring the United States with the Charles L. Wagner Opera Company to make ends meet. She joined the New York City Opera in 1955 making her debut as Rosalinde in Johann Strauss' Die Fledermans.
Her personal life was moving as fast as her professional career. Sills married Peter Buckeley Greenough, associate editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1956. She "retired" again in 1961 when she found out her two-year-old daughter was deaf and her newborn son was mentally handicapped. Both her husband and New York City Opera manager Julius Rudel encouraged her to return to singing years later.
Although appearing with the Boston Opera Company in Mozart's The Magic Flute, Sills gained international fame in 1966 with the New York City Opera for her performance in Georg Handel's Guilio Cesare. She stayed with the New York City Opera and became its general manager effective July 1, 1979 after Julius Rudel's resignation in 1978.
Beverly Sills' singing career ended in 1980, but that did not keep her from her duties to the New York City Opera. In addition to her singing legacy, Sills helped the March of Dimes raise more than $80 million dollars before her death in 2007. ~ Kim Summers