Mattiwilda Dobbs, Soprano

Mattiwilda Dobbs

Mattiwilda Dobbs, Soprano

Mattiwilda Dobbs’s exceptional vocal gifts and musical skill enabled her to cross color barriers to become an internationally known opera star. The Atlanta native was the first African-American to sing at La Scala in Milan, Italy, and the first black woman to be offered a long-term contract by the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York.

Dobbs’s coloratura soprano was praised for its freshness and agility, as well as for the beauty of its tone. After winning the International Music Competition in Geneva, in Switzerland, in 1951, she sang in major festivals and opera houses throughout Europe, including La Scala in 1953. Her American debut was in 1954 at a recital in New York. She sang the role of Gilda in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto for her debut with the Metropolitan Opera in 1956. Although Marian Anderson, a black opera singer from Pennsylvania, had preceded her to that stage in 1955, Dobbs was the first African-American woman to be offered a long-term contract by the Met; she sang twenty-nine performances, in six roles, over eight seasons.

Following the example set by African American performer and activist Paul Robeson, Dobbs refused to perform for segregated audiences. In Atlanta she could have performed in African American churches or colleges, but she was not able to perform for a large integrated audience until the Atlanta City Auditorium was desegregated in 1962, when she was joined onstage and given a key to the city by Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. It was the first of many performances in her home city. Dobbs performed in operas produced and directed by the acclaimed opera singer Blanche Thebom, and in 1974 she sang at the gala marking the inauguration of her nephew Maynard Jackson as mayor of Atlanta.

In 1974, after retiring from the stage, Dobbs began a teaching career at the University of Texas, where she was the first African American artist on the faculty. Her teaching career includes artist-in-residence at Spelman College, where she was awarded an honorary doctorate. Dobbs continued her teaching career as professor of voice at Howard University. She served on the board of the Metropolitan Opera and on the National Endowment of the Arts Solo Recital Panel. Dobbs continued to give recitals until as late as 1990 before retiring from the stage.

Mattiwilda Dobbs sings Verdi’s Caro Nome from Rigoletto circa late 1950s

Mattawilda Dobbs is available for Masterclasses
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Mattiwilda Dobbs, Soprano