Grace Bumbry Receives Award in Martina Franca

By Francisco Salazar

Legendary singer Grace Bumbry was honored at the Festival Valle Della d’Itra in Martina Franca, Italy.

The singer received the Premio Rodolfo Celletti at the conclusion of a performance of “Beatrice di Tenda” at the Palazo Ducale on July 26.

The festival’s president Alessandro Caroli and the mayor of Martina Franca, Franco Punzi were in attendance to give the award to Bumbry, who became the first African-American to be recognized with the award.

Punzi said, “On the occasion of her 85th birthday we want to celebrate an artist of such international level who undoubtedly contributed to the comprehension of the female voice and who broke stereotypes of what is a soprano or mezzo-soprano, and what they can sing and creating another academic category.”

Bumbry performed at the festival 45 years ago in a production of “Norma” after being invited by Rodolfo Celletti. According to Punzi, “it was an unforgettable evening.”

Upon receiving the award Bumbry said, “I am honored to be here in Martina Franca where I sang my first ‘Norma.’ It was here that I met Rodolfo Celletti and after that we met in Moscow at the Tchaikovsky Competition. We were able to speak about singing and the vocal probems. I saw that he was very conscious about singing and the voice.”

She added, “I am so honored to receive this recognition and to be the first African American to receive the award.

Throughout her career, Bumbry was considered one of the leading mezzo-sopranos of her generation, as well as a major soprano earlier in her career. She was also a member of a pioneering generation of African-American opera and classical singers who paved the way for future generations of African-American opera and concert singers.