George Shirley, the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance at the University of Michigan, received the National Medal of Arts in a recent White House ceremony. According to the citation accompanying the award, Professor Shirley “has captivated audiences for more than 50 years with his masterful performances.” He also has “paved the way for generations of aspiring African-American opera singers.”
After graduating from Wayne State University in 1955, Shirley was drafted into the Army, where he became the first African-American member of the U.S. Army Chorus. Later, he was the first Black tenor to land a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Professor Shirley joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1987 after teaching for six years at the School of Music of the University of Maryland.