Black Opera: Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, the Black Swan

Welcome to Sonosphere on WYXR 91.7 FM or wherever you get your podcasts.

Today on the show we feature Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield aka Black Swan in the vocal concert tradition of late 19th century America.

We will hear from Professor Adam Gustafson who has written about Greenfield as America’s first black pop star for The Conversation an academic journal and is a professor of music at Penn State. We talk about the Greenfield’s early life and rise in the operatic and pop scene in the 19th century.

Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield came of age in antebellum America and grew her career at a time when European operatic, concert songs made singers like Jenny Lind and Catherine Hayes rich and famous.

Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, a.k.a. Black Swan

The concert soprano, Greenfield, was different. She was born a slave in Mississippi and raised by an abolitionist in Philadelphia. When she hit the pop scene in the 1850s, in Professor Gustafson words, she “shattered preexisting beliefs about artistry and race.”

In this show we’ll also exclusively hear black opera singers from Leontyn Price and Jessye Norman to Terrance Blanchard’s Fire Shut up in my Bones, which premiered at the New York Metropolitan Opera earlier this year. While there is no known recording of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, we will hear Revella Hughes, another great soprano from the 1920s, and maybe one of the first African American opera singers ever recorded. We’ll hear a phonograph recording from 1921 from the Black Swan record label, the label named for Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield.

Thanks for joining us.

Tracklist:

Norma Act 1: Casta Dive (1980) Vincenzo Bellini, Leontyne Price, Henry Lewis

Dido and Aeneas, Z. 626 / Act 3 Henry Purcell, Jessye Norman, English Chamber Orchestra, Raymond Leopard

Porgy and Bess / Act 2 George Gershwin, Willard White, Leona Mitchell, Cleveland Orchestra

Dream with Me – Peter Pan Leonard Bernstein, Harolyn Blackwell

Tosca Act 2: Vissi d’arte, Vissi d’amore Giacomo Puccini, Leontyne Price (1963)

Green Finch and Linnet Bird (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) Stephen Sondheim, Harolyn Blackwell

Vier letze Lieder, 2 September Richard Strauss, Jessye Norman

Peculiar Grace (Fire Shut Up in my Bones) Terrance Blanchard, Will Liverman

At Dawning Charles Wakefield Cadman, Revella Hughes

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