Episode 246. Previn Moore Introduces Camilla Williams & Janet Williams (BHM 2024)

Episode 246. Previn Moore Introduces Camilla Williams & Janet Williams (BHM 2024)



As the final entry in this year’s Black History Month episodes, my dear friend Previn Moore introduces his Listeners’ Favorites choice, an episode I published in the early months of Countermelody back in the fall of 2019. It features two phenomenal Black sopranos whose friendship and mentorship Previn outlines in detail in an introductory interview I did with him at his home in Vienna this past week. This episode features the phenomenal, the legendary, the pathbreaking soprano Camilla Williams (1919-2012), whom Previn first met as a young tenor at Indiana University’s School of Music, where Miss Williams was the first African American teacher of singing to serve on the faculty. While there, Previn also formed a lifelong friendship with Camilla’s student, Janet Williams, who herself went on to a brilliant worldwide career, including twelve years as a leading soprano with the Staatsoper Unter den Linden here in Berlin. Janet and I met as fellow students in the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera and it has been my joy and a privilege to share a treasured friendship with her ever since. In tribute to both of these extraordinary sopranos, I offer a cache of rare studio recordings by Camilla Williams, supplemented by live material sung by Janet Williams from the artist’s private archives. Included among the selections are excerpts from Camilla’s rarely-heard album of spirituals on the MGM Records label, and a concert given by Janet Williams in her home town of Detroit in 1989, capped by a stunning rendition of Undine Smith Moore’s arrangement of the spiritual “Watch and Pray,” dedicated to Camilla Williams. Many thanks to Previn, Janet, and the extraordinary Camilla Williams for their shining examples and for their dedicated artistry.

Dan and Previn
Dan and Janet



George Gershwin: Summertime (Porgy and Bess). Camilla Williams with Al Goodman and His Orchestra and The Guild Choristers. RCA Victor 46-0004-B, 1947.

Giuseppe Verdi: Ciel, mio padre! Camilla Williams, Aida; Lawrence Winters, Amonasro (from Aida excerpts, MGM Records, K81, ca. 1951). László Halasz conducts the New York City Opera Orchestra. Additional cast includes Giulio Gari, Radames; and Lydia Ibarrondo, Amneris. (This duet is unavailable on YouTube; click here to hear Camilla’s performance of Ritorna vincitor from this recording.)

From A Camilla Williams Recital (MGM Records E140, 1952) (Borislav Bazala, pianist)

Claude Debussy: Beau soir

Léo Delibes: Églogue

Ottorino Respighi: Pioggia

Celius Dougherty: The K’e

From Camilla Williams Sings Spirituals (MGM Records E-156, ca. 1953) (Borislav Bazala, pianist)

Poor Me (Trouble Will Bury Me Down)

Hold On

When I’ve Done

Oh, What a Beautiful City

Camilla Williams and Boris Bazala in old age.

The good news for intrepid collectors is that all of the above recordings are available to customers in the United States via special order. Please contact me privately either here or through my Facebook page for details.

Camilla Willilams as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly
Janet Williams in the title role of Semele, Berliner Staatsoper.
Photo by Monika Rittershaus.

The following recordings are from a live recital that Janet gave in her hometown of Detroit in January, 1989. Her pianist is Lawrence Gee (with whom she is pictured below after the concert).

Janet and Lawrence Gee after their Detroit recital, January 1989
Janet Williams as Poppea in Agrippina

Jules Massenet: Obéissons quand leur voix appelle (Manon)

Janet Williams as Cleopatra in Graun’s Cleopatra e Cesare

Francis Poulenc: C

Janet Williams and Helen Donath in Der Rosenkavalier, Washington Opera

Franz Schubert: Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (with Stephen Millen, clarinettist)

Spiritual (arr. Undine Smith Moore): Watch and Pray. The dedication to this piece reads, “For my dear Camilla Williams with love and pride in her career.”

Janet Williams in Gassman’s L’Opera Seria

Spiritual (arr. Hall Johnson): Ride On, King Jesus

Janet Williams as Konstanze

Additional recordings of Janet Williams used in this episode include:

Georges Bizet: Comme autrefois (Les pêcheurs de perles) (László Halasz conducts; Janet told me this was a recording made in Budapest).

“Myself I shall adore”
“O Sleep, why dost thou leave me?”

George Frideric Handel: Two excerpts from Semele (televised production from the Berliner Staatsoper) Myself I Shall Adore; and O Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me?

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