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William Warfield

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Information about William Warfield

Profile image of William Warfield

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Singer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Green
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
1/22/1920
Birth Location:
West Helena, Arkansas

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Singer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Green
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
1/22/1920
Birth Location:
West Helena
See how William Warfield is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Opera singer and educator William Caesar Warfield was born on January 22, 1920 in West Helena, Arkansas to Robert and Bertha McCamery Warfield. Warfield first developed vocal skills by singing in the choir of his father’s Baptist church. During his childhood, the Warfield family moved to Rochester, New York, where he took formal voice lessons. In 1938, during his senior year at Washington High School, Warfield won the District Award for the National Music Educators’ League vocal competition, which included a scholarship to a music school. Warfield went on to attend the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, where he received his B.A. degree in music studies in 1942.

After a brief period of service in the U.S. Army during World War II, Warfield returned to New York and earned a part in the Broadway show Call Me Mister. He then was cast in two other productions, 1948’s Set My People Free and 1950’s Regina. In 1950, Warfield was also cast in the film adaptation of Show Boat and made his New York City Town Hall debut.

In 1952, Warfield was chosen to star as Porgy in a revival of the musical Porgy and Bess, opposite opera soprano legend Leontyne Price. They toured throughout the United States and Europe and later married. Together, they went on to perform several concerts, including a joint recital with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1956. Throughout the remainder of the 1950s, Warfield toured with the U.S. Department of State throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and the Near East. In the 1960s, he performed in a series of European shows, including venues in Greece, Switzerland, and Austria. Warfield also began to teach music in the 1970s, first at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1974 to 1990; at the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1993 and 1994; and at Northwestern University from 1994 until 2002.

On March 24, 1975, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Warfield's Town Hall debut was commemorated by a recital at the Duke Ellington Center in New York City's Carnegie Hall. In 1984, he won a Grammy Award in the spoken word category for his narration of Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait. In addition, Warfield was a past president of the National Association of Negro Musicians and a board member of the Schiller Institute. He died on August 25, 2002.

William Warfield was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 14, 1999 and June 6, 2002.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of William Warfield interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - William Warfield lists his favorite things
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - William Warfield explains his use of the word charmed in his book
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - William Warfield recalls his Southern upbringing despite being raised in the North
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - William Warfield comments on his family's economic status during his childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - William Warfield discusses early experiences with segregation
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - William Warfield talks about his father and their relationship
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - William Warfield recalls childhood memories of disciplining his siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - William Warfield discusses his mother's personality and parents as disciplinarians
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - William Warfield shares a story about his mother's disciplinary style
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - William Warfield talks about the musical careers of his brothers
  • Tape: 1 Story: 12 - William Warfield describes his brothers' perception of him
  • Tape: 1 Story: 13 - William Warfield discusses the role of music in his life
  • Tape: 1 Story: 14 - William Warfield talks about the significance of music
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - William Warfield describes his personal connection with his audience
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - William Warfield recalls how outside events influence his performances
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - William Warfield talks about his career aspirations in music
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - William Warfield remembers his business manager, Larney Goodkind
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - William Warfield recalls his service in the U.S. Army
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - William Warfield talks about his experiences with segregation in the 1940s
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - William Warfield explains how being in the arts shielded him from segregation
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - William Warfield talks about his first professional music role
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - William Warfield talks about his Town Hall debut, 1950
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - William Warfield discusses his role in the movie musical 'Show Boat', 1951
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - William Warfield talks about Paul Robeson
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - William Warfield recalls meeting his operatic idols
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - William Warfield talks about his role in 'The Green Pastures' and actress Butterfly McQueen
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - William Warfield recounts the advice imparted by his mentor Marian Anderson
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - William Warfield discusses the emotional affect of music on him
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - William Warfield reflects on being forbidden to play jazz
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - William Warfield discusses the making of the motion picture 'Show Boat', 1951
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - William Warfield talks about being mistaken for an Aborigine
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - William Warfield talks about his stint in Hollywood and his preference for the concert stage
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - William Warfield talks about the stage production of 'Porgy and Bess', 1952
  • Tape: 3 Story: 11 - William Warfield reflects on his relationship with Leontyne Price
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - William Warfield details his marriage and divorce to Leontyne Price
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - William Warfield talks about his proposal to Leontyne Price and his philosophy on marriage
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - William Warfield highlights points of transition in his career
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - William Warfield discusses various high points in his career
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - William Warfield talks about his experiences as a teacher
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - William Warfield discusses his inspirations for living
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - William Warfield recites 'Deacon Jones' Grievance', a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - William Warfield provides advice to young musicians
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - William Warfield discusses the importance of travel
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - William Warfield talks about being an artist and the significance of music
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - William Warfield reflects on his legacy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - William Warfield reflects on the state of humankind
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - William Warfield sings 'Old Man River' in German
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - William Warfield narrates his photographs, pt. 1
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - William Warfield narrates his photographs, pt. 2
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - William Warfield narrates his photographs, pt. 3
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - William Warfield narrates his photographs, pt. 4
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - William Warfield narrates his photographs, pt. 5