William Benjamin Ray, educator, opera singer, and civil rights activist died from congestive heart failure at a hospice facility in Columbia, Maryland on July 3. He was 94 years old.
A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Ray began singing at the age of 6 in a local church. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he attended Kentucky State University for two semesters. He transferred to the Oberlin College Music Conservatory in Ohio to concentrate on music and earned a bachelor’s degree there.
In 1956, Ray was offered a role at the Vienna Opera. He later became the leading baritone at the Cuvilliés Theater in Munich and the Frankfurt Opera. While in Europe, Ray earned a master’s degree in education from the Heidelberg University in Germany.
After concluding his career as a performer, Ray returned to the United States where he taught for 10 years at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In 1992, Ray became director of the voice program at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He taught at Howard until his retirement in 2000.