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Caterina Jarboro

February is Black History Month. Caterina Jarboro, born July 24, 1903, was the first African American female opera singer. She first graced the stage twenty years prior to Marian Anderson. She was the daughter of an American Indian mother and black father. She was orphaned at 13 years old and went to New York to live with her aunt. She initially appeared in black musicals and later, in 1930, she debuted in Verdi’s Aida at the Puccini Theater in Milan, Italy. In 1933 she was recruited to perform Aida with the Chicago Civic Opera at the New York Hippodrome Theater. She was praised and known for her perfect Italian diction. In so doing, she was the first black woman to appear with a major American opera company.


“The New York Metropolitan Opera Association invited her to become a member, but when they realized that she was not Italian, but Afro-Indian, they denied her membership.” As her reknown grew, they extended her a second invitation … which she unequivocally declined and returned to Europe.


Jarboro retired in 1955 and died in New York City in 1986.


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