A Special Homecoming

A Special Homecoming:
Opera Theatre Welcomes Opera Icon and Grammy Award Winner Grace Bumbry to Her Native St. Louis on May 6-7 

Legendary opera singer to host master class at the Sheldon Concert Hall, where Mayor Francis G. Slay will proclaim May 6 as “Grace Bumbry Day”

Acclaimed singer also to be honored as special guest at OTSL’s Gala on May 7

St. Louis, MO, April 25, 2016 — Opera Theatre of Saint Louis welcomes the return of iconic opera star Grace Bumbry to her native St. Louis on May 6-7.  The Grammy Award winner will lead a public master class at the Sheldon Concert Hall on Friday, May 6, coaching the next generation of American opera stars.  Prior to the program, Mayor Francis G. Slay will honor Miss Bumbry by proclaiming May 6, 2016 as“Grace Bumbry Day” in St. Louis.  The opera legend will also be honored onSaturday, May 7 at Opera Theatre’s 2016 Spring Fête at Hunter Farms Miss Bumbry’s visit is part of a series of weekly OTSL events leading up to the company’s 41st Festival Season, which begins Saturday, May 21 and continues through Sunday,June 26

Grace Bumbry is recognized as one of the most significant artists of her generation. During an era of segregation, she broke racial and artistic boundaries throughout the 20th century, paving the way for African American artists while developing a celebrated career with riveting and acclaimed appearances at the Metropolitan Opera, Opéra National de Paris, Bayreuth Festspielhaus, Royal Opera House, La Scala, and many more.  She was the first person of color to sing at the Paris Opéra, and the first person of color to be cast in a major role at Bayreuth, which caused controversy with the culturally conservative audience at the time.  She was also the first African American opera singer to perform at the White House, invited by President John F. Kennedy in 1962.  Her many awards include a Grammy Award as well as being named a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors by President Obama in 2009.  Born and raised in St. Louis, Grace Bumbry is a graduate of Sumner High School and sang with the Union Memorial Methodist Church choir.

Details of Opera Theatre’s two events featuring Grace Bumbry are:

Friday, May 6 at 11:00 a.m.

The Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63108

Don’t miss this chance to watch and learn from one of America’s most celebrated operatic icons! Renowned opera singer Grace Bumbry leads a public master class with four of Opera Theatre’s 2016 Gerdine Young Artists.  Her appearance begins with a welcome by Dr. Gerald Early, Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters at Washington University in St. Louis, followed by a ceremony officiated by Mayor Francis G. Slay, who will proclaim “Grace Bumbry Day in St. Louis.”  The master class will follow immediately afterwards.  High school student groups are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Made possible by the Steward Family Foundation and World Wide Technology Foundation.

Free and open to the public. Registration required at www.opera-stl.org/GraceBumbry or by calling 314-961-0644.  

OPERA THEATRE GALA: 2016 Spring Fête
Saturday, May 7 at 6:30 p.m.

Hunter Farms, 13175 Ladue Road, St. Louis, MO 63141

Chaired and underwritten by Thelma and David Steward, and hosted at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Stephen F. Brauer, Opera Theatre kicks off its 41stAnniversary Season with the 2016 Spring Fête.   Opera Theatre will pay tribute to special guest and legendary opera singer Grace Bumbry.  The gala’s theme evokes Paris, where Miss Bumbry debuted with the Paris Opéra at the age of 23.  It also evokes Puccini’s beloved La bohème, which will run for nine performances during the season.  The gala features performances by principal artists from Opera Theatre’s upcoming season, including Lauren Michelle, the 2016 Thelma Steward Endowed Artist, who will sing Musetta inLa bohème.  Proceeds from the gala will support OTSL’s exceptional artists, renowned professional training programs, year-round music education programs, and outreach activities for young audiences.

Special thanks to Mr. & Mrs. David Steward for underwriting the Spring Fête and to Mr. & Mrs. Stephen F. Brauer for opening their home for the event.

This is a private ticketed event. Please call (314) 963-4223 for more information.


About Grace Bumbry

Grace Bumbry was born and raised in St. Louis, and graduated from Sumner High School.  She is the daughter of a school teacher/homemaker and a railroad company freight handler.  She became interested in music when she was taken to concerts of Marian Anderson as a young girl, and she sang around the family piano and in the family church youth choir at Union Memorial Methodist Church.  Encouraged by all who knew her singing, Miss Bumbry won first prize in a local radio talent competition at age 17.  One of the prizes for first place was a scholarship to a local music conservatory; however, as the institution was segregated, it would not accept her in its classrooms but offered private lessons instead. Her parents refused.  Instead, she auditioned for Arthur Godfrey's popular "Talent Scouts" program.  Her performance moved the host not only to tears, but also to predict "her name will be one of the most famous names in music one day."

She continued her studies at Boston University and then Northwestern University, and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California.  She made her operatic debut in Aïda at the Paris Opéra as the first person of color to sing at the Paris opera house.  The extraordinary success of her performances led to invitations to audition in Bayreuth for the grandson of the composer Richard Wagner.  Miss Bumbry was the first person of color to be cast in a major role at the prestigious Bayreuth Festspielhaus, and she continued to pave the way for African American artists with acclaimed appearances.

She was named a Commandeur in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government, received the “Premio Giuseppe Verdi” for her contributions to Italian Opera, and was named a Goodwill Ambassador to UNESCO.  Miss Bumbry was recently honored by the Metropolitan Opera on the 50th anniversary of her Met debut. 

Miss Bumbry is a Grammy Award winner, and has recorded for Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Philips, Sony Classical, and RCA.  She is now a much-valued teacher around the world and created the Grace Bumbry Black Musical Heritage Ensemble in the ‘90s, a choir devoted to preserving and performing traditional Negro spirituals and gospel on the concert stage.  “The spiritual, for me, is the American classic, as Brahms and Beethoven are European classic," said Miss Bumbry in a New York Times interview.

About Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is one of the leading American opera companies, known for a spring festival of inventive new productions, sung in English, featuring the finest American singers and accompanied by members of the St. LouisSymphony. With its 2016 Festival Season, Opera Theatre will have presented 25 world premieres (including the 2016’s Shalimar the Clown) and 26 American premieres — which may be the highest percentage of new work in the repertory of any U.S. company. Described by the Sunday Times of London as “one of the few American companies worth the transatlantic fare,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis annually welcomes visitors from nearly every state and close to a dozen foreigncountries. Although the size of the theater typically limits box office income to less than a quarter of the budget, the company has consistently produced work of thehighest quality while never accumulating a deficit.

Opera Theatre also has a long tradition of discovering and promoting the careers of the finest operatic artists of the current generation. Among the artists who had important early opportunities at Opera Theatre are Christine Brewer, Susan Graham,Nathan Gunn, Patricia Racette, Thomas Hampson, Jerry Hadley, Dawn Upshaw, Matthew Polenzani, Sylvia McNair, Erie Mills, Dwayne Croft, Kelly Kaduce, andLawrence Brownlee. Opera Theatre has always been known for distinguished leadership: founding general director Richard Gaddes was succeeded in 1985 bygeneral director Charles MacKay, with famed British stage director Colin Graham as artistic director and Stephen Lord (1992 – present) as music director. TimothyO’Leary was named general director in October 2008 with acclaimed stage directorJames Robinson succeeding the late Colin Graham.


Opera Theatre is a sustaining member of the Arts & Education Council of Greater Saint Louis, and receives major support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Missouri Arts Council.