Classical Music

Who was Roland Hayes?

In 1917 Roland Hayes (1887–1976) became the first black to sing in Symphony Hall in Boston. Born in Curryville, Georgia, the son of former slaves, Hayes studied at Fisk University, where he was a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. He left Fisk to study voice in Boston, then traveled and studied in Europe. The 1917 concert attracted little public attention but another in the same venue on December 2, 1923, was a triumph. It was the beginning of a major career for Hayes. In 1923 he sang with the Boston Symphony, and may have been the first black to sing with a major orchestra. Hayes became the first black to give a recital at Carnegie Hall in 1924. He was known in the United States for his interpretation of classical lieder and Negro spirituals and was the leading black singer of his time.

A former member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Roland Hayes sang for the Boston Symphony and became the first black singer to perform at Symphony Hall.


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