Episode 22. Gloria Davy (Black History Month III)

Episode 22. Gloria Davy (Black History Month III)



Today we examine the fascinating and somewhat frustrating career of Gloria Davy (1931-2012). Yet another African American singer who found greater opportunity abroad than in the United States, Davy has the distinction of being the first Black singer to perform the title role of Verdi’s Aida at the Metropolitan Opera, which role served as her debut in 1958. Another early career success came when she replaced Leontyne Price as Bess in an international tour of Porgy and Bess. Her earliest recordings, both live and studio, reveal a voice of uncommon beauty with an interpretive sensitivity to match. A superb musician, Davy also sang contemporary music throughout her career, including important premieres by Hans Werner Henze and Karlheinz Stockhausen. One must ask the question, however, if her voice would have been better served had she not turned to sung Bess and Aida so early in her career, but had instead had access to roles such as Anna Bolena, which she sang brilliantly at Town Hall in New York in 1957. The episode includes a rare airing of Davy’s 1956 album of Spirituals, in arrangements by the lesser-known African American composer Julia Perry and excerpts from her recordings of Shulamit Ran’s O the Chimneys, on poems by Nelly Sachs, and the 1972 revision of Stockhausen’s momentous Momente.


Gloria Davy Sings Spirituals in arrangements by Julia Perry

Traditional Spiritual, arr. Julia Perry: On My Journey. Gloria Davy, soprano; Julia Perry leading an instrumental ensemble. Decca Records LW 5215 (1956).

Mirella Freni and Franco Zeffirelli at Covent Garden, 1962
(Photo by Erich Auerbach/Getty Images)

Giacomo Puccini: Butterfly’s Entrance (Madama Butterfly). Mirella Freni (Butterfly); Herbert von Karajan, Wiener Philharmoniker. Decca Records SET 584/6 (1974).

Mirella Freni in the Jean-Pierre Ponnelle film of Madama Butterfly.
Sándor Kónya and Leontyne Price in Madama Butterfly,
San Francisco Opera, 1961.

George Frideric Handel: Care selve (Atalanta). Leontyne Price, soprano; Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra. From Prima Donna Volume 2, RCA Records LM / LSC-2968 (1966).

Leontyne Price photographed by Carl Van Vechten.
The cutest record cover ever!

Paul Bowles, James Schuyler: A Picnic Cantata (excerpts). Martha Flowers, Gloria Davy (sopranos); Mareda Gaither (mezzo-soprano); Gloria Wynder (contralto); Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, pianos); Al Howard (drums). Columbia Records ML 5068 (1954)

Paul Bowles
(L to R) John O’Hara, John Button, James Schuyler, Joe LeSueur (1960).
James Schuyler by Fairfield Porter
Sergiu Celibidache and Gloria Davy

Benjamin Britten: Fanfare; Marine (Les Illuminations) Gloria Davy, soprano; Sergiu Celibidache, Orchestra Sinfonica della Rai di Roma. (30.03.57)

A deluxe edition of Arthur Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations
with original lithographs by Fernand Léger and an introduction by Henry Miller
(L to R) Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, Debralee Scott and Dody Goodman in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

Theme Music to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Dody Goodman, voice

Dody Goodman as Martha Shumway in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: So must we two forever part? (The Magic Flute). Gloria Davy (Pamina); Nicolai Gedda (Tamino); Giorgio Tozzi (Sarastro); Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (06.12.58)

An autographed copy of Gloria Davy’s 1957 London/Decca Concert Recital.

Henry Purcell: Man is for the Woman Made Gloria Davy, soprano; Giorgio Favaretto, piano. London Records 5395 (1957)

Johannes Brahms: Auf dem Kirchhofe, Op. 105/4 Gloria Davy, soprano; Giorgio Favaretto, piano. London Records 5395 (1957)

Giuseppe Verdi: La tra i foreste vergini [auf Deutsch] (Aida). Gloria Davy (Aida); Jess Thomas (Radames); Karl Böhm, Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin (Live 1961)

The exquisite cover of Deutsche Grammophon’s Cai/Pag excerpts in German, 1961.

Pietro Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana duet (excerpt) [auf Deutsch]. Gloria Davy (Santuzza); Sándor Kónya (Turiddu); Jonas Kulka, Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin. Deutsche Grammophon 139 413 (1961)

Sándor Kónya as Lohengrin, his most celebrated role, Bayreuth 1958
The hokey cover of Deutsche Grammophon’s excerpts from Der Troubadour (auf Deutsch, natürlich!)

Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore Final Scene (excerpt) [auf Deutsch]. Gloria Davy (Leonora); Sándor Kónya (Manrico); Raymond Wolansky (Conte di Luna); Jonas Kulka, Orchester der Württembergischen Staatstheater Stuttgart. Deutsche Grammophon 136 405.

César Franck; Rébecca Duet (excerpt). Gloria Davy (Rebecca); Pierre Mollet (Eleazar). Mario Rossi, Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Torino della RAI. 30 April 1959

Gloria Davy in the title role of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena

Gaetano Donizetti: Coppia iniqua (Anna Bolena), Gloria Davy (Anna); Arnold Gamson, conductor; New York, Town Hall 10 October 1957. Cast included Richard Cassilly and Giulietta Simionato.

Shulamit Ran, Nelly Sachs: Three excerpts from O the Chimneys. Gloria Davy, soprano; The New York Philomusica Chamber Ensemble (Paige Brook, flute; Joseph Rabbai, clarinet and bass clarinet; Gerald K. Appleman, cello; Gordon Gottlieb, percussion); A. Robert Johnson, conductor. Turnabout TV-S 34492 (1973)

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Momente (excerpts: sound collage). Gloria Davy (soprano); Chor des Westdeutschen Rundfunks Köln; Ensemble Musique Vivante Köln, Deutsche Grammophon 2709 055 (1976).

Julia Perry (1924-1979)

Traditional Spirituals, arr. Julia Perry: Let Us Break Bread Together; Sister Mary Had-a But One Child; Hold the Wind; Eagle’s Wings; You Must Have that True Religion. Gloria Davy, soprano; Julia Perry leading an instrumental ensemble. Decca Records LW 5215 (1956).

Relevant Links

The NYFOS blog page about A Picnic Cantata by Paul Bowles and James Schuyler, commissioned by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale.

Audio links to Gloria Davy’s student performances at Juilliard, 1953-54.

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Momente: A history and analysis.

Julia Perry biographical sketch.

Julia Perry: Stabat Mater (1951). Makiko Asakura (mezzo-soprano); William Strickland leading the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra.

A cornucopia of Gloria Davy photos, articles, and press materials

Gloria Davy photographed by Carl Van Vechten

2 thoughts on “Episode 22. Gloria Davy (Black History Month III)”

  1. Hi.
    Thank you for this great website. Lovely to listen to the singers and get to know a little more about them or learn something new from those I do not know. What I would request is that you don’t talk over the tracks. I know its hard as your enthusiasm is obviously high for these great artists. It just allows those who know nothing of the these singers to enjoy the track as a whole. Always happy to share my recordings with you. Kind regards, Nick from Plymouth, England.

    1. Hello Nick and thank you for your kind comment. I make it a policy to never speak over the singers when they are singing. I do speak over the intros and playouts but this is so that there is more time to play more singers. I also edit nearly all of the tracks that I use so you are never hearing a complete performance of the singer. I do this again because of time constraints. My hope is always that people will look more deeply into the singers that interest and intrigue them the most. I will look into ways of foregrounding the singers. I’m thrilled that you are listening; it means a lot to me. Best wishes, Daniel

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