In Memoriam: Camilla Ella Williams (1919-2012)

Camilla Williams, professor emerita at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, died from complications of cancer earlier this week in Bloomington, Indiana. She was 92 years old.

In 1946 Williams starred in the New York City Opera Company’s production of Madama Butterfly. This was the first time that an African American woman appeared with a major U.S. opera company. Williams’ appearance preceded by nine years Marian Anderson’s debut with the Metropolitan Opera.

Williams was a native of Danville, Virginia. She was the valedictorian of the Class of 1937 at John M. Langston High School and went on to be named the outstanding graduate of the Class of 1941 at Virginia State University.

Williams sang at the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington and at the 1964 ceremony when Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She retired from performing in 1971 and taught at Brooklyn College, Bronx College, and Queens College. In 1977 she was appointed professor of voice at Indiana University. In 1983 she served as a visiting professor at the Beijing Central Conservatory. Williams was the first Black to teach at the school. She retired from teaching in 1997.

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