La Nera Callas

The foundation of Classical music began as early as the Medieval times in 1150.  During the dark ages, classical music emerged in forms of  ballades. The idea of the modern orchestra was developed within European societies in the 15th and 16th century during the Baroque and Classical period.

Specific to the genre of classical music is its strict structural clarity. This structure prevailed throughout sonatas, and symphonies with the rise of dominated instrumental compositions. What distinguishes Classical music from other genres is it’s written down musical notion that allows composers to reinterpret and perform music that may have been created centuries ago. The piano, harpsichord, organ, and members of the string family are the most notable instruments used in orchestras. Timbre in the form of light and cheerful are usually found in classical music as well. Today, classical music has taken many new forms, one in which is called serial structure, which contains multiple operetta styles.

As with most genres, African Americans began to give their own take on classical music at the turn of the 20th century. In the 1860’s as blacks were shun from white orchestras they began to practice classical music in music conservatories. African American’s created their own symphony orchestras, eventually leading to the first incorporated black orchestra of Philadelphia in 1906.

From the 1960’s to the 1990’s, an African- American woman named Shirley Verrett reigned as an operatic mezzo-soprano performer. While her singing career was initially shunned by her family, she continued to develop her career on an international scale. Her stardom arose from her performance of the works of Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and Gaetano Donizetti.

Verrett’s fame in Italy during her soprano role of Lady Macbeth of Giuseppe Verdi’s production, led her to be nick-name La Nera Callas (The Black Callas). Her ability to capture international audiences with her dramatic skills and rich and powerful voice enabled her to become one of the premiere mezzo-sopranos of her generation.


One of her most well known performance in 1982 during the New York Philharmonic concert was that of ”Le temps des lilas” of Chausson.  With this Verret captivated the audience with her emotional climatic passages allowed for her soprano and mezzo versatile voice to shift gears throughout the performance. With this she rendered both the French and romantic aspects of the genre.

Unbeknownst to many, African American classical composers and performers still exist. Petty Yende , a South African soprano singer is just one of the many prominent 21st century black leaders of the classical genre.


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