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George Shirley

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Information about George Shirley

Profile image of George Shirley

Profession

Category:
EducationMakers
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Music Instructor
Opera Singer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Orange
Favorite Food:
Fish
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
4/18/1934
Birth Location:
Indianapolis, Indiana

Profession

Category:
EducationMakers
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Music Instructor
Opera Singer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Orange
Favorite Food:
Fish
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
4/18/1934
Birth Location:
Indianapolis
See how George Shirley is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Opera Singer George Shirley was born on April 18, 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Irving and Daisy Shirley. By age four, Shirley had begun performing, joining his mother and father as a musical trio within the Indianapolis church community. After moving to Detroit, Michigan with his parents at age six, Shirley continued to build his musical talents, playing the baritone horn in a community band, and studying voice while a student at Northern High School. His musical acumen earned Shirley a scholarship to Wayne State University, where he performed in his first musical drama, Oedipus Rex, with the Men’s Glee Club in 1955. He graduated that same year, receiving his B.S. in Music Education.

Also in 1955, Shirley became the first African American high school music teacher in the city of Detroit. A year later, after being drafted into the Army, he became the first African American to sing with the U.S. Army Chorus, where, influenced by fellow choir members, Shirley decided to pursue a career in opera. In 1959, he performed in his first staged production, Die Fledermaus, with a small company in Woodstock, New York. The following year, after winning the American Opera Auditions in New York, he was invited to play the role Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme in Milan, Italy. In 1961, Shirley won first prize in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, thus becoming the first African American tenor to be awarded a contract with that company, where he performed from 1961 through 1973. He played major roles in more than twenty operas, often performing with fellow African American opera pioneers Leontyne Price and Shirley Verrett. During and after his stint with the Metropolitan Opera, Shirley was a well sought tenor across the globe, appearing in productions in London, Italy, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Chicago, Boston and a host of other cities. Shirley also won a Grammy Award for a recording of his performance in Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte.

In 1980, Shirley joined the staff of the University of Maryland as a professor of voice. In 1985, the University honored him with a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award. In 1987, he returned to the Detroit area, as a professor of voice at the University of Michigan, and five years later, he was named the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Professor of Voice. In 2007, Shirley was named the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Emeritus Professor of Voice upon his retirement.

George Shirley was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 10, 2010.

See how George Shirley is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of George Shirley's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - George Shirley lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - George Shirley describes his mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about his maternal family's migration north to Indianapolis, Indiana and Detroit, Michigan
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - George Shirley describes his father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - George Shirley talks about the family land in Summer Shade, Kentucky
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - George Shirley talks about his father's education and how his parents met
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - George Shirley talks about his birth by caesarian section and his mother's fertility complications
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - George Shirley describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - George Shirley describes his father's near death experience in a Detroit, Michigan hospital
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about the establishment of People's Community Church and his father's work as an insurance agent in Detroit, Michigan
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - George Shirley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood in Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - George Shirley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood in Detroit, Michigan
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - George Shirley describes Ebenezer A.M.E. Church and growing up in Detroit, Michigan's North End
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - George Shirley talks about music curriculum in the Detroit Public Schools
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about his exposure to classical music at Northern High School in Detroit, Michigan
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about his experiences at Northern High School in Detroit, Michigan
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - George Shirley recalls his decision to attend Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - George Shirley describes performing Igor Stravinsky's 'Oedipus Rex' at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - George Shirley talks about teaching at Miller High School in Detroit, Michigan
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - George Shirley describes joining the United States Army Chorus
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - George Shirley talks about segregation in Washington D.C. during the 1950s and his experience in the United States Army Chorus
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - George Shirley describes performing in the United States Army Chorus and seeing an opera for the first time
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about meeting Themy Georgi
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - George Shirley describes the beginning of his opera career
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Second slating of George Shirley's interview
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - George Shirley describes his first performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about African American singers in the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - George Shirley details the history of black opera singers in the United States
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - George Shirley talks about the National Negro Opera Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - George Shirley talks about Caterina Jarboro, Jules Bledsoe, Paul Robeson, and Roland Hayes
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - George Shirley talks about meeting Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson, and Paul Robeson
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - George Shirley talks about changes in the musical tastes of black youth during the 1960s and 1970s
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - George Shirley talks about black opera singers recognized in 1960s popular culture and the challenges involved in composing operas
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - George Shirley explains why he pursued a career in classical music
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - George Shirley describes seeing his first opera, Verdi's 'Rigoletto,' in 1957
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about Scott Joplin's opera 'Treemonisha' and musicians' desire to be multi-dimensional
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - George Shirley talks about the differences between jazz and classical music
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - George Shirley talks about performing with Shirley Verrett and Leontyne Price
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - George Shirley talks about performing roles for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about the roles he performed throughout his operatic career
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about receiving criticism for using pale makeup in a performance of 'The Stag King'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - George Shirley talks about the incorporation of race in critics' reviews of African American performers
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - George Shirley describes his first visit to Atlanta, Georgia in 1962
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - George Shirley talks about returning to Atlanta, Georgia in 1966
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about his performance of Romeo in 'Romeo and Juliet' at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1969
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about the end of his career at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City
  • Tape: 8 Story: 5 - George Shirley talks about his operatic career after the Metropolitan Opera and singing in multiple languages
  • Tape: 8 Story: 6 - George Shirley describes the challenges involved in operatic performing and highlights from his career
  • Tape: 8 Story: 7 - George Shirley talks about teaching at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland and at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Tape: 9 Story: 1 - George Shirley talks about teaching at the University of Maryland and joining the faculty at the University of Michigan
  • Tape: 9 Story: 2 - George Shirley explains the significance of the role of Porgy in George Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess'
  • Tape: 9 Story: 3 - George Shirley talks about performing in 'Porgy and Bess' and its international reception
  • Tape: 9 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about twenty-first century American opera compositions
  • Tape: 9 Story: 5 - George Shirley talks about his students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Tape: 9 Story: 6 - George Shirley describes his approach to instructing voice students
  • Tape: 9 Story: 7 - George Shirley talks about taking proper care of a voice and managing acid reflux disease
  • Tape: 10 Story: 1 - George Shirley addresses the misapprehension that weight corresponds to a singer's ability
  • Tape: 10 Story: 2 - George Shirley describes the significance of diet and vocal training for opera singers
  • Tape: 10 Story: 3 - George Shirley describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 10 Story: 4 - George Shirley talks about his family
  • Tape: 10 Story: 5 - George Shirley reflects upon his legacy
  • Tape: 10 Story: 6 - George Shirley describes how he would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 10 Story: 7 - George Shirley sings an aria from 'Girl of the Golden West' in Italian