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WQXR Features

From the Vaults: George Jellinek Pays Tribute to Leontyne Price

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In honor of Black History Month, we're featuring selections from the WQXR archive with great African-American artists.

In this special encore presentation of The Vocal Scene, late host George Jellinek reaches into his own vaults for a 1996 RCA Victor-produced interview between John "Jack" Pfeiffer and Ms. Price. It's a special 'Vaults of the Vaults' production for us, and it captures one of the great sopranos at her best: introspective, forthcoming and very much at home with an old friend.

Listen in as Ms. Price traces the trajectory of her career, with nods to the greats of her past such as Florence Page Kimball, about whom Ms. Price simply states: "She taught me how to sing." This broadcast also features highlights from across Ms. Price's career, including selections from Il Trovatore, Aida, as well as a recording of Ms. Price singing the American classic-- This Little Light of Mine.

Ms. Price was born Mary Violet Leontyne Price on February 10, 1927 in Laurel Mississippi. Her parents discovered their daughter's musical talent at a young age, and supported her interests by acquiring an upright piano and encouraging her in the local choir. Ms. Price studied music at Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio, and went on to the Juilliard School in Manhattan.

After graduating from Juilliard in 1951, Ms. Price began performing with the NBC Opera Theater, making her debut in San Francisco, Salzburg, Vienna and London. In 1961, Ms. Price made her Metropolitan Opera debut in the role of Leonora in Verdi's Il Trovatore. She brought the house down with one of the longest standing ovations in Met Opera history, over 35 minutes. Ms. Price went on to sing 164 parts at the Met in 16 roles. She is the first African American to sing multiple leading roles, and the first to earn the Met's top fee.