Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



Document Type



Lenora Lafayette (1926-1975) was an African-American opera singer who developed her professional path while facing tremendous racial, cultural, and economic barriers. She was a Louisiana native with great vocal potential who attempted to enroll at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, but was denied admission due to segregation. Lenora attended The Juilliard School as an alternative and earned scholarships that covered her tuition for an entire year. She studied with the prestigious faculty member Dusolina Giannini and developed her talent to the degree that she was able to win a John Hay Whitney Fellowship for study abroad. She traveled to Switzerland and established herself as a leading artist, debuting as ‘Aida’ at the Basel Opera House. She later repeated the same role at Covent Garden and made history as the first African-American to perform at the Royal Opera House. Although she did not experience the widespread fame of such contemporaries as Leontyne Price, her international achievements were quite extraordinary for an African-American female of her time. She survived solely on a performance career that was built shortly after World War II and reached its peak prior to the Civil Rights Movement. This study chronicles the musical journey of Lenora Lafayette and examines some of the similarities between her career experiences and those of four other African-American contemporaries. Chapter one will provide a biographical sketch of Ms. Lafayette. It will address her initial interest in singing and her music education. Chapter Two will follow Ms. Lafayette’s performance career. It will discuss some of her early appearances, recount her most significant professional achievement of integrating Covent Garden, and identify some of the performers, conductors, and directors with whom she worked during the course of her profession. It will also discuss the abrupt termination of her career and feature four persons from Baton Rouge whose lives were significantly influenced by her achievements. Chapter Three will provide a brief overview of the careers of four of Lenora’s contemporaries (three females and one male) and will discuss similarities and differences among their career experiences with those of Ms. Lafayette.



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Committee Chair

Robert Grayson



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Music Commons