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Opera great Grace Bumbry to receive 2009 Kennedy Center Honor

The list of Kennedy Center Honors for 2009 is slanted toward the pop culture fields -- Mel Brooks (movies, Broadway), Dave Brubeck (jazz), Bruce Springsteen (rock), Robert de Niro (movies). But holding up the classical side with great distinction will be soprano Grace Bumbry, an artist who generated quite a lot of electricity in the heyday of her operatic career, which was really two careers -- initially a mezzo, she made a successful transition to soprano.

Bumbry helped break down barriers against vocal artists of colors; she was the first black singer to perform at the Bayreuth Festival, in 1961. Her versatility in repertoire, her musicianship and potent personality proved to be a dynamic combination that earned her a hearty fan base. Bumbry has long worn the mantle of "diva" with ease, style and (no pun intended) grace. Excellent choice, Kennedy Center Honors nominating folks.

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Here's a sample of Bumbry's talent, singing one of the beloved anthems of divahood, "Io son l´umile ancella," from Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur." (Translation: "I am the humble servant of the creative genius.") The sync between audio and video may not be perfect in this clip, but the singing is divine.

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