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Willis C. Patterson

Maker interview details

Profile image of Willis C. Patterson


  • November 2, 2022
  • March 18, 2022



  • Born: November 27, 1930
  • Birth Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan


  • Favorite Color: Blue
  • Favorite Food: Collard Greens and Cornbread
  • Favorite Time of Year: Autumn
  • Favorite Vacation Spot: Interlochen, Michigan and Opelousas, Louisiana

Favorite Quote

"Stand Up Straight and Sing - Jessye Norman"
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Professor and opera singer Willis Patterson was born on November 27, 1930, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He received his B.M. degree in 1958 and M.M. degree in 1959 from the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. From 1965 to 1966, he studied German Lieder at the Staalische Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, West Germany, on a Fulbright Fellowship. He received his Ph.D. degree in education administration and supervision in 1993 from Wayne State University, in Detroit, Michigan. He also attended Eastern Michigan University and the Manhattan School of Music.

Patterson joined the Air Force in 1949. He began teaching at Southern University and A&M College, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1959. In 1962, he accepted a professorship at Virginia State University, in Petersburg, Virginia. In 1963, he performed in Amahl and the Night Visitors. In 1968, Patterson became the first African American professor in the School of Music, Theater, and Dance at the University of Michigan. In 1969, he founded the Willis C. Patterson Our Own Thing Chorale and became the director of the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club, a position he held until 1975. That year, Patterson was appointed chair of the Department of Voice. He published an anthology of African American music, Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers, in 1977. In 1979, Patterson was appointed associate dean of the School of Music, Theater, and Dance. In 1985, he began serving as music director of The First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor. Patterson retired from the University of Michigan in 1999. Patterson has performed in numerous operas, including Porgy and Bess, Fidelio, and La Bohème.

Patterson became executive secretary of the National Black Music Caucus in 1977 and served as president of the National Association of Negro Musicians from 1990 to 1995. He is a co-founder of the Ann Arbor Community Fund.

Patterson is a recipient of the Marian Anderson Award.

Patterson and his wife, Frankie Patterson, live in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has four children.

Willis Patterson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 18, 2022.