Obituary: Tenor Paul Sperry Dies

By Francisco Salazar

American tenor Paul Sperry has died.

Born in Chicago, Sperry graduated from Harvard College and continued his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. Throughout his career, Sperry was recognized as one of the great interpreters of American music as well as baroque music by the likes of Monteverdi and Bach.

Sperry became known for his interpretation of art song and worked with such interpreters as Pierre Bernac, Paul Ulanowsky and Jennie Tourel. His immersion in modern music saw many composers dedicate works to him and he world premiered works by 40 composers. Among the works in that catalogue are Leonard Bernstein’s “Dybbuk Suite,” Jacob Druckman’s “Animus IV,” Hans Werner Henze’s “Voices,” and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s first opera. Other composers whose works he premiered include Robert Beaser, William Bolcom, Daniel Brewbaker, Tom Cipullo, Nathan Currier, Charles Fussell, Daron Hagen, Richard Hundley, Libby Larsen, Bruno Maderna, Paul Moravec, John Musto, Rob Paterson, Stephen Paulus, Russell Platt, Larry Alan Smith, Louise Talma, Francis Thorne, Nicholas Thorne, Dan Welcher, Charles Wuorinen, and Judith Lang Zaimont.

Sperry compiled and edited several volumes of American songs, both anthologies and single composer collections for G. Schirmer, Peer-Southern, Boosey & Hawkes, Carl Fischer and Dover Publications. His collection “American Encores” was released by Oxford University Press and he became the first non-composer to be elected president of the American Music Center, a national organization that provides information all over the world about American composers and their music. He held that position for three years. Sperry also served seven years as Chairman of the Board of the American Composers Orchestra.

The tenor also performed at many of the leading theaters in the world including the Teatro alla Scala, Nederlands Operastichting, Opéra de Lyon, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, and the Washington Opera.

Sperry left many recordings including five CDs of American song on Albany Records, DG, CRI, Crystal, Musical Heritage, Summit, and Nonesuch Records. He also recorded songs of Poulenc, “Great Composers Love Folksongs Too,” and Schubert’s “Winterreise.”

Sperry was also a great teacher who taught at Manhattan School of Music, Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music, SongFest at Pepperdine, and a festival in Malibu.