Grace Bumbry died today, aged 86

Grace Bumbry died today, aged 86


norman lebrecht

May 08, 2023

Austrian media are reporting the death yesterday in a Vienna hospital of the epoch-making American soprano. She suffered a stroke some months ago.

The first black singer to sing at Bayreuth – Venus in Tannhäuser in 1961 – Bumbry went on to an immense career in Europe and the UK. It took some years for the Met to engage her.

An imposing character, she had a German tenor husband and a married London patron. She knew how to enjoy life and seldom looked back at the prejudice she suffered in her early years. Through the 1970s, she was a world star who could sell out any opera house. She could handle wharever life threw her way.

Eventually, she became a respected teacher.


  • Tiredofitall says:

    What 10 years? I believe she was Eboli at the Met in 1965.

    RIP; a great artist.

    • TishaDoll says:

      Great artist, great lady. She and Aprile were a great Aida/Amneris pair at the MET in the late 80s..among her other great roles. I laughed at her obit in Die Presse from Vienna today, ‘Karajan was irritated that the young singer was driving a Lamborghini in Salzburg in 65 or so when he was conducting her in CARMEN, until she took him for a spin in it.’ Love the story and so Grace Ann

  • Christ Ponto says:

    I believe Bumbry was engaged by the MET for a 1965 debut. Many times American Europe-based artists were advised to wait to make a MET debut, for the perception of legitimacy it conferred, not so different from generations before when American artists were encouraged to take names that looked more operatic on the bill.

    She was a great artist.

  • James Weiss says:

    Grace Bumbry made her Metropolitan debut in 1965 just 4 years after Bayreuth.

  • Daniel Guss says:

    She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1965, only four years after Bayreuth.

  • Siegfried says:

    London was privileged to have many great performances from her. A legend and a very great star.

  • Ernest says:

    RIP amazing Grace! She was truly one of the greats! I remember her appearances in Covent Garden as well as her interview with Alan Sievewright in the Swedenborg Hall in London in the 80s.

  • NorCalMichael says:

    The word ‘legend’ gets thrown around a lot, but she was one without question. A great singer and artist, and a history maker to boot.

  • Willym says:

    Well I suppose 4 years is “some years” and I do hope you are not holding Gleb responsible for Rudolf Bing’s decision back in 1965.

    • Antwerp Smerle says:

      “Some years” was previously “ten years”. Not content with using his readers as his spell-checker, NL evidently also relies on them as fact-checkers too. Keeps us on our toes, I guess…

  • David G says:

    I met her once. Long story short: my sister shared a surgery/doctor/hospital room with Joanna Simon, who was preparing to sing Fenena in Nabucco at the NYC Opera. We went backstage to visit Ms Simon and, knowing I was an opera fan, introduced me to Grace, who was singing the leading soprano role. She was very grand, but ultimately quite pleasant and lovely.

  • David Hyslop says:

    It was my privilege to work with Grace Bumbry on a number of occasions during my tenure as CEO of the St. Louis Symphony.
    She had a great voice and was a great performer.
    At some of the after concerts dinners, she would talk of her early years in St. Louis and the prejudices she faced . To overcome the obstacles that she had, and prevail, is also a credit to her and the people who believed in her.

  • Save the MET says:

    RIP, the last of the great Lotte Lehmann babies. (I don’t include Marilyn Horne as she was a masterclass student.)