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DeGaetani, Jan (10 July 1933–15 September 1989), mezzo-soprano and vocal teacher, was born in Massillon, Ohio, the daughter of Earl D. Ruetz, a lawyer, and Eleanor (maiden name unknown). She showed an early interest in music and as a teenager sang with the local church choir. Later she studied at the Juilliard School in New York with Henry Brant, Norman Lloyd, and ...

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Duncan, Todd (12 February 1903–27 February 1998), singer and teacher, was born Robert Todd Duncan in Danville, Kentucky, the son of John Duncan, a garage owner, and Lettie Cooper Duncan, a music teacher. Duncan's B.A. (1925) came from Butler University; his M.A. (1930) from Columbia University's Teachers College....

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Todd Duncan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Lee, Sylvia Olden (29 June 1917–10 Apr. 2004), musician, teacher and classical vocal coach, was born Sylvia Olden in Meridian, Mississippi. Her maternal great-great-grandmother had been on the infamous Trail of Tears March in 1838 and 1839, where the U.S. government forced the Cherokee nation to move from their lands east of the Mississippi River to Oklahoma. Nearly a fourth of them died on the journey. Upon reaching Nashville, Tennessee her great-great-grandmother refused to go farther. She and her twelve children were sold into slavery; one became the first ordained black Baptist minister in Nashville, Tennessee. His daughter was an early graduate of Fisk University....

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Verrett, Shirley (31 May 1931–5 Nov. 2010), opera singer, recitalist, and educator, was born in New Orleans, the second of six children of Leon and Elvira Verrett. Her parents had been among the growing number of African Americans who had converted to Seventh-Day Adventism, and the Verrett children were raised in a restrictive religious environment. Verrett’s earliest musical training came from her father, who wanted her to become a concert recitalist in the tradition of ...

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Walker, Edyth (27 March 1867–19 February 1950), opera singer and teacher, was born in Hopewell (Ontario County), New York, the daughter of Marquis de Lafayette Walker, a carpenter and landscape gardener, and Mary Purdy. Christened Minnie Edith, she changed her name to Mary Edyth and eventually dropped the Mary. When Edyth was an infant, the family moved to Geneva, New York. When she was about twelve, they relocated to Rome, New York, where she attended school and was graduated from the Rome Free Academy in 1884. Her natural talent enabled her to perform as a contralto soloist in nearby churches, without formal vocal training, from the age of fourteen....