Sylvia Olden Lee
Sylvia Olden Lee (29 June 1917 – 10 April 2004) was a renowned vocal coach and accompanist, and the first African-American to be employed by the Metropolitan Opera. She was a master of all aspects of European classical music as well as the Negro Spiritual.
Lee was born into the very musical Olden family in Meridian, Mississippi. Her father, James Clarence Olden, was a member of the Fisk Quartet, which included Roland Hayes. She studied piano and organ at Howard University and Oberlin Conservatory.
Among the highlights of her career:
- She was invited to play at the White House for the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933).
- In 1942 she toured with Paul Robeson.
- In 1954, after being hired as vocal coach for the Metropolitan Opera, she was the impetus for the historic invitation to African-American contralto Marian Anderson to perform in Giuseppe Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera.
- She was friends with Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, who she encouraged to return to violin playing.
Olden Lee taught at a number of universities, including the Curtis Institute of Music.
- Sylvia Olden Lee & Elizabeth Nash. The Memoirs of Sylvia Olden Lee: Premier African-American Vocal Coach. Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.