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The Legacy Project


The National Opera Association recognizes the importance of ethnic and racial diversity in professional opera. The Legacy Project of the National Opera Association is established to achieve that goal by recognizing the contributions of those who have led progress toward that goal, and to assist, through career development grants, those who demonstrate potential to advance the goal.

Background and History

Willie Anthony Waters
Willie Anthony Waters,
2013 Legacy Award Recipient

The Legacy Program of the National Opera Association began in 1995, in observance of the 50th anniversary of singer Todd Duncan’s contract with New York City Opera. It was the first contract for an African-American singer with a major US opera company, and has become the focal point for the National Opera Association's recognition of the outstanding contributions of African-American artists to opera in America.

The inaugural event of the Legacy Program took place in Boston in December of 1995 as the joint initiative of the NOA and the W. E. B. DuBois Foundation at Harvard University. In conjunction with NOA’s annual convention, over 300 singers, conductors, and educators gathered from around the world to honor Todd Duncan, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Robert McFerrin, and Camilla Williams as the first recipients of the “Lift Every Voice” Legacy Awards.

NOA celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Legacy Program at its 2016 Convention in Indianapolis.

Oral History Project

The following video interviews, recorded in Chicago on July 18, 2019 by Richard Poppino, comprise an oral history of the groundbreaking careers of African-American artists to the field of opera:

View Oral History Videos

Oral History Interviews

Interviewees include:

  • George Shirley
  • Cicely Jackson Perry
  • Daniel Washington
  • Darryl Taylor
  • Elvira Green
  • Gail Robinson-Oturu
  • Louise Toppin
  • Osceola Davis
  • Patrice Eaton
  • Robert Sims
  • Uzee Brown
  • Willis Patterson

The “Lift Every Voice” Legacy Award

recognizes significant contributions to the operatic profession. While the majority of the recipients are recognized as leading soloists, recipients have also included conductors, directors, composers, and educators.

"Lift Every Voice" Legacy Award Recipients

1995 Todd Duncan
Mattiwilda Dobbs
Camilla Williams
Robert McFerrin
1997 Inez Mathews
Etta Moten Barnett
Sylvia Olden Lee
Anne Wiggins Brown
1998 Adele Addison
Everett Lee
Fred Thomas
Margaret Tynes
1999 Leontyne Price
William Warfield
Charlotte Wesley Holloman
Gloria Davy
Boris Goldovsky
2000 Betty Allen
Martha Flowers
Andrew Frierson
Rawn Spearman
2001 Martina Arroyo
Grace Bumbry
Reri Grist
Shirley Verrett
Lola Hayes
Eileen Southern
2002 Annabelle Bernard
Nadyne Brewer
Elinor Harper
Leslie Savoy Burrs
2003 Gary Burgess
Andre Montal
George Shirley
2004 Simon Estes
Arthur Herndon
Willis Patterson
2005 Raoul Abdul
Benjamin Matthews
Wayne Sanders
2006 H. Leslie Adams
Phillip Creech
Leona Mitchell
Andrew Smith
2007 Vera Little-Augustitus
William Ray
George Walker
2008 Faye Robinson
Ella Lee
Anthony Davis
2009 Robert Owens Luther Saxon
2010 Curtis Rayam Marie Hadley Robinson
2011 Felicia Weathers Donnie Ray Albert
2012 Edward Pierson Gwendolyn Bradley
2013 Willie Anthony Waters  
2014 Louise Toppin Olive Moorefield Mach
2015 Esther Hinds  
2016 LaVergne Monette  
2017 Jessye Norman  Marian Anderson*
2018 Harolyn Blackwell  
2019 Howard Watkins  
2020 Paul Tazewell  
2021 Barbara Hill Moore  
2022 Osceola Davis  

* denotes posthumous award

Lift Every Voice Legacy Award recipient Felicia WeathersLift Every Voice Legacy Award, Edward Pierson