Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) was an African-American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. Music critic Alan Blyth said “Her voice was a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty.” Most of her singing career was spent performing in concert and recital in major music venues and with famous orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965. Although offered roles with many important European opera companies, Anderson declined, as she had no training in acting. She preferred to perform in concert and recital only. She did, however, perform opera arias within her concerts and recitals. She made many recordings that reflected her broad performance repertoire of everything from concert literature to lieder to opera to traditional American songs and spirituals.
Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid-twentieth century.
Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Harris April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) was an American jazz singer and songwriter. Nicknamed “Lady Day” by her friend and musical partner Lester Young, Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz and pop singing. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo.
Critic John Bush wrote that Holiday “changed the art of American pop vocals forever.” She co-wrote only a few songs, but several of them have become jazz standards, notably “God Bless the Child”, “Don’t Explain”, “Fine and Mellow”, and “Lady Sings the Blues”. She also became famous for singing “Easy Living”, “Good Morning Heartache”, and “Strange Fruit”, a protest song which became one of her standards and was made famous with her 1939 recording.
Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996), also known as the “First Lady of Song”, “Queen of Jazz”, and “Lady Ella”, was an American jazz and song vocalist. With a vocal range spanning three octaves (D?3 to D?6), she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a “horn-like” improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.
Fitzgerald was a notable interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Over the course of her 59-year recording career, she was the winner of 13 Grammy Awards and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H. W. Bush.
Bessie Smith (April 15, 1894 – September 26, 1937) was an American blues singer.
Nicknamed The Empress of the Blues, Smith was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and, along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on subsequent jazz vocalists.
Florence Beatrice Price (April 9,1887, Little Rock, Arkansas – June 3, 1953, Chicago, Illinois) was an American composer. Florence Price (née Smith) is considered the first Black woman in the United States to be recognized as a symphonic composer. Even though her training was steeped in European tradition, Price’s music consists of mostly the American idiom and reveals her Southern roots. Her mother, a soprano and pianist, carefully guided her early musical training, and at age fourteen, she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music with a major in piano and organ. She studied composition and counterpoint with George Chadwick and Frederick Converse, writing her first string trio and symphony in college, and graduating in 1907 with honors and both an artist diploma in organ and a teaching certificate.
She taught in Arkansas from 1907–1927 and married Thomas J. Price, an attorney, in 1912. After a series of racial incidents in Little Rock, particularly a lynching that took place in 1927, the family moved to Chicago where Price began a new and fulfilling period in her compositional career. She studied composition, orchestration, and organ with the leading teachers in the city including Arthur Olaf Anderson, Carl Busch, Wesley La Violette, and Leo Sowerby and published four pieces for piano in 1928. While in Chicago Price was at various times enrolled at the Chicago Musical College, Chicago Teacher’s College, Chicago University, and American Conservatory of Music, studying languages and liberal arts subjects as well as music.
Sarah Lois Vaughan (March 27, 1924 – April 3, 1990) was an American jazz singer, described by Scott Yanow as having “one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century.”
Nicknamed “Sailor” (for her salty speech), “Sassy” and “The Divine One”, Sarah Vaughan was a Grammy Award winner. The National Endowment for the Arts bestowed upon her its “highest honor in jazz”, the NEA Jazz Masters Award, in 1989.
Biographies of Vaughan frequently stated that she was immediately thrust into stardom after a winning Amateur Night performance at Harlem’s Zeus Theater. In fact, the story that biographer Renee relates seems to be a bit more complex. Vaughan was frequently accompanied by a friend, Doris Robinson, on her trips into New York City. Sometime in the fall of 1942 (when Sarah was 18 years old), Vaughan suggested that Robinson enter the Apollo Theater Amateur Night contest. Vaughan played piano accompaniment for Robinson, who won second prize. Vaughan later decided to go back and compete herself as a singer. Vaughan sang “Body and Soul” and won, although the exact date of her victorious Apollo performance is uncertain. The prize, as Vaughan recalled later to Marian McPartland, was $10 and the promise of a week’s engagement at the Apollo. After a considerable delay, Vaughan was contacted by the Apollo in the spring of 1943 to open for Ella Fitzgerald.