African-American soprano was forced to sing in Europe

Charlotte Holloman, who has died in Washington aged 93, belonged to a generation of singers who faced a colour bar in US opera houses.

After a strong debut at New York Town Hall, Charlotte studied in London and Berlin and made her start in German opera houses in Essen and Saarbrücken. Then she returned to the US to the only career available to a singer of her race: teaching.

WP obit here. Hear Charlotte sing here.
charlotte-w-holloman-1957

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  • Well, having researched Ms. Holloman’s New York Times reviews, one suspects that her absence from America’s opera houses was not due to racial bias. The critics praised her strengths, but also noted her vocal flaws, and apparently her repertoire choices weren’t in her own best interests. Certainly her African-American contemporaries Betty Allen and Leontyne Price were having success in America’s opera houses during this same period, as the color-bar for African-American opera singers was coming down at that time. Otherwise, many American opera singers were going to Europe in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s — simply because there were more opera companies over there.

  • I realize that US bashing is part of what we do here but the byline doesn’t seem accurate. African-Americans began singing at the MET in the mid 50’s, 60 years ago, when Ms. Holloman was still in her early 30’s.

  • She wasn’t “forced” to sing in Europe – it’s just that European houses were more suited to her smallish voice, and thanks to the more plentiful singing opportunities available there, her vocal limitations were less of a hindrance to her getting hired by European houses. She had an interesting instrument, but her vocal problems and limitations are obvious. Highly doubtful that racial bias was a major factor (if a factor at all) in her lack of employment in America, where there were fewer opera houses and stiff competition for the available roles.

  • Denial is a funny thing it makes us forget the obvious fact that we did and still do live in a culturally White Supremacist society in the US geared towards unconscious institutionalized predilection for rampant racist hiring practices along all genres of the fine performing arts. Nitpicking and Tokenism won’t deny facts.

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