(Vienna) The American Grace Bumbry, the first black singer to sing in 1961 at the Bayreuth Festival, died Sunday in Vienna at the age of 86, her son announced on Monday.
Suffering a stroke in October on her way to New York to receive a career award, this opera star returned to the Austrian capital, her adopted home, a few weeks later.
It was there that she died in hospital, according to her adopted son David Lee Brewer, quoted by the APA news agency. Her funeral is scheduled to take place in St. Louis, Missouri, where she was born on January 4, 1937.
Daughter of a teacher and a railway employee, she was taken as a child to a concert by Marian Anderson, the first black artist to tackle opera singing.
It was a revelation that led the mezzo-soprano to make her debut at the Paris Opera at the age of 23. Noticed, she was chosen by Wieland Wagner, the grandson of the composer Richard Wagner, to embody the Venus of Tannhäuser at the Bayreuth Festival.
Indifferent to racist reactions in a then closed environment, Grace Bumbry becomes the first person of color to land a major role in this renowned place, achieving international glory, according to the biography published on her website.
“The audience gave her a 30-minute ovation and the troupe was called back on stage 42 times,” says the Kennedy Center, which honored her in 2009 by praising “her unique voice, her stage presence” and her ease with change. of vocal register, from mezzo-soprano to soprano.
The diva, who loved Lamborghinis, jewelry and haute couture outfits, performed on the most prestigious stages, from La Scala to the Met, as an interpreter of the Italian repertoire (Verdi), but also French (Carmen de Bizet).
Among her many titles, she had been named Honorary Ambassador of UNESCO and had received in Paris the insignia of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.
In a statement, Austrian State Secretary for Culture Andrea Mayer hailed “an icon of opera and a pioneer for generations of opera singers”.
“With her legendary debut in Bayreuth in the 1960s, she made a decisive contribution to equal rights in the world of opera,” she said.