On This Day: 90-Year-Old Leontyne Price’s Wisdom on Race, Art & Success

By David Salazar

On Friday, Feb. 10, legendary soprano soprano Leontyne Price turns 90.

The soprano is perhaps one of the greatest in the history of all of opera, her influence spreading far and wide. Not only do other artists embrace her greatness, but her prominence on the operatic stage in the 50’s and 60’s helped open the door for black singers to leave their mark on the art form.

Today we remember her as, arguably, the definitive “Aida” and a potent “Tosca.” She was the leading Verdi soprano of her time, was one of the Metropolitan Opera’s big names and left a fantastic recorded legacy.

But she was also a women with tremendous wisdom, one who had no qualms about speaking her mind, especially when it came to social issues and the arts. To celebrate her birthday, here is a look at some of her greatest insights on success and race among other things.

On Race

1. “If you are going to think black, think positive about it. Don’t think down on it, or think it is something in your way. And this way, when you really do want to stretch out, and express how beautiful black is, everybody will hear you.”

2. Be black, shine, aim high.

3. Accomplishment have no color.

4. I am here and you will know that I am the best and will hear me. The color of my skin or the kink of my hair or the spread of my mouth has nothing to do with what you are listening to.

5. The way I was taught, being black was a plus, always. Being a human being, being in America, and being black, all three were the greatest things that could happen to you. The combination was unbeatable.

6. All token Blacks have the same experience. I have been pointed at as a solution to things that have not yet begun to be solved, because pointing at us token Blacks eases consciences of millions, and this is dreadfully wrong.

On Performance

7. Once you get on stage, everything is right. I feel the most beautiful, complete, fulfilled. I think that’s why, in the case of non-compromising career women, parts of our personal lives don’t work out. One person can’t give you the feeling that thousands of people give you.

8. …we performers are monsters. We are a totally different, far-out race of people. I totally and completely admit, with no qualms at all, my egomania, my selfishness, coupled with a really magnificent voice.

9. I have never given all of myself, even vocally, to anyone. I was taught to sing on your interest, not your capital.

10. For a long time the only time I felt beautiful – in the sense of being complete as a woman as a human being, and even female – was when I was singing.

11. A healthy sex life. Best thing in the world for a woman’s voice.

On Success

12. If you’re not feeling good about you, what you’re wearing outside doesn’t mean a thing.

13. If I do have some success, I’d like to enjoy it, for heaven’s sake! What is the point of having it otherwise?

14. The ultimate of being successful is the luxury of giving yourself the time to do what you want to do.

15. I prefer to leave standing up, like a well-mannered guest at a party.

16. You should always know when you’re shifting gears in life. You should leave your era; it should never leave you.

17. Who I am is the best I can be.

On Art

18. Art is the only thing you cannot punch a button for. You must do it the old-fashioned way. Stay up and really burn the midnight oil. There are no compromises.

19. We should not have a tin cup out for something as important as the arts in this country, the richest in the world. Creative artists are always begging, but always being used when it’s time to show us at our best.

Happy Birthday Leontyne!


On This DaySpecial Features