Carol Brice

The African-American contralto Carol Brice led a dual career across three decades, dividing her time between classical music and theater music. Born Lovette Hawkins in Sedalia, NC, in 1918, she attended the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia and Talageda College in Alabama, where she earned her Bachelor of Music degree in 1939. She subsequently studied with Francis Rogers at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, but long before she graduated she was already making something of a splash with her performing career. At the 1939 New York World's Fair, she was featured in a production of The Hot Mikado, an extremely popular adaptation of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado (with a book by Mike Todd) featuring an all-African-American cast. And in 1941 she was selected to sing at a concert for President Franklin Roosevelt's third inaugural. In 1943, Brice also became the first African-American to win the Naumburg Award. Among her many stage roles were Addie in Regina, Maude in Finian's Rainbow, Maria in Porgy and Bess, Queenie in Showboat, and Harriet Tubman in Gentlemen, Be Seated. Brice also appeared on several theater cast recordings. Additionally, she was a member of the Vienna Volksoper from 1967 through 1971. Her classical repertory, in addition to opera in the German and Viennese traditions, also included Mahler's work. During the mid-'40s, she made the first U.S. recording of his Songs of the Wayfarer with the Pittsburgh Symphony under Fritz Reiner -- with whom she enjoyed a harmonious professional relationship -- this at a point when the composer's music was perceived as scarcely having a major following in the United States. Brice taught at the University of Oklahoma from 1974 until her death a decade later. With her husband, baritone Thomas Carey, she was also the co-founder of the Cimarron Circuit Opera Company. She passed away in 1985. ~ Bruce Eder

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