Mattiwilda Dobbs, coloratura soprano, Died at 90

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Mattiwilda Dobbs was born on July 11, 1925, and died on December 8, 2015.

Mattiwilda was an African-American coloratura soprano and one of the first black singers to enjoy a major international career in opera.

Possessing a small but buoyant voice, Mattiwilda was admired for her refined vocal technique and lively interpretations.

Mattiwilda was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of John and Irene Dobbs, who were leaders in the African-American community of Atlanta.

She began piano lessons at the age of seven, and sang in community and church choirs.

Mattiwilda attended Spelman College where she began to study voice.

She then studied with German soprano Lotte Leonard in New York City and later won a John Hay Whitney Fellowship scholarship, which enabled her to pursue her studies in Europe, notably with Pierre Bernac.

After winning the International Music Competition in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1951, Mattiwilda made her professional operatic debut at the Holland Festival, as the Nightingale in Stravinsky’s The Nightingale, in 1952.

Mattiwilda lived briefly in Spain, with her first husband, Luis Rodriguez, who died of a liver ailment in June 1954, fourteen months after their wedding.

In late 1957, Mattiwilda married Bengt Janzon, a Swedish newspaperman and public relations executive. Janzon died in 1997.

Martin Luther King, Sr’s arranged choice of a bride for Martin Jr. was opera singer Mattiwilda Dobbs, whose father founded the Atlanta Civic League and the Atlanta Negro Voters League.

Mattiwilda was also the aunt of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.

Mattiwilda Dobbs passed away at age 90 on December 8, 2015.


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