Camilla Williams, who broke a racial barrier several years before Marian Anderson famously did so at the Metropolitan Opera, died from cancer at the age of 92 in Bloomington, Ind., where she was a professor emeritus at Indiana University.
Ms. Williams is credited as the first African American to be featured in a starring role with a major American opera company. That debut on May 15, 1946 was in the title role of "Madama Butterfly" with the New York City Opera. The soprano went on to become the first singer in a major role at the Vienna State Opera in 1954, a year before contralto Marian Anderson made her Met debut.
Ms. Williams also was involved in another bit of history -- she sang the national anthem at the Lincoln Memorial before Martin Luther King's delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech there.
Here is a disarming video clip of Ms. Williams describing her early career, which got a boost from the legendary ... Geraldine Farrar. I have also attached an extended excerpt from a 1953 recital disc that provides a fine example of Ms. Williams' artistry: