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Marilyn Horne (born January 16, 1934) is an American mezzo-soprano opera singer. She specialized in roles requiring a large sound, beauty of tone, excellent breath support, and the ability to execute difficult coloratura passages. She is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts (1992) and the Kennedy Center Honors (1995). She has won four Grammy Awards.
Horne was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania, but moved with her parents to Long Beach, California, when she was 11. At the age of 13, she became part of the newly formed Los Angeles Concert Youth Chorus. She attended the University of Southern California where she was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority. She is an alumna of Long Beach Polytechnic High School and returned in 1989 in a performance to benefit its music program. As a high school student, Marilyn was part of the St. Luke's Choir of Long Beach under the direction of William Ripley Dorr. This prestigious choir often worked for the movie studios and recorded with Capitol Records. Marilyn and her sister Gloria were part of St. Luke's Quartet along with tenor Bob James and baritone Philip D. Haynes.
Horne's first major professional engagement was in 1954, when she dubbed the singing voice of Dorothy Dandridge in the film Carmen Jones. Until that point, she had worked as a background singer for several TV sitcoms, as well as recorded covers of popular songs of the early 1950s, which were sold in dimestores around the country for $1.98. She made an appearance on The Odd Couple as a character named "Jackie", her own nickname, a meek and nervous would-be singer who develops into a full-blown diva and essays the role of Carmen with brilliant results; she also sang on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She made her Los Angeles debut the same year when she performed the role of Hata in The Bartered Bride with the Los Angeles Guild Opera.
Her first major breakthrough came when her singing ability was recognized by Igor Stravinsky; her operatic career began when he invited her to perform in the 1956 Venice festival. She remained in Europe for three seasons singing for the Gelsenkirchen Opera.
She was highly acclaimed for her performance as Marie in Alban Berg's Wozzeck at the inauguration of Gelsenkirchen's new opera house on May 22, 1960. In 1964, she returned to the United States to appear in Wozzeck at the San Francisco Opera.
For many years, Horne was associated with the Australian soprano Dame Joan Sutherland in their performances of the bel canto repertoire. They first performed together in a concert version of Vincenzo Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda at The Town Hall in Manhattan in February 1961. This performance was so successful, it was repeated twice at Carnegie Hall. In 1965, they were paired again in a performance of Rossini's Semiramide with the Opera Company of Boston, and sang in a joint concert on October 15, 1979, which was telecasted as "Live from Lincoln Center".
Horne made her debut at the Royal Opera House in October 1964 as Marie in Wozzeck. Her La Scala debut was as Jocasta in Stravinsky's opéra-oratorio Œdipus rex on March 13, 1969. Another of Horne's breakthroughs occurred that same year during a performance of Rossini's Le siège de Corinthe at La Scala, when Horne received a remarkable mid-act seven-minute ovation. Horne made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1970 as Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma with Sutherland in the title role. She thereafter appeared regularly at the Met, opening the 1972/1973 season as Carmen. A great success there was in Meyerbeer's Le prophète, in John Dexter's production. In 1984, she sang the title role of Handel's opera seria Rinaldo (directed by Frank Corsaro), the first Handel opera ever performed at the Met.
Although best known for her bel canto and opera seria roles, Horne also sang much American music, both contemporary music by composers such as William Bolcom, and traditional popular songs. She can be heard on the soundtrack of Flower Drum Song singing "Love, Look Away" and sings the role of Lady Thiang on the Philips recording of The King and I starring Julie Andrews and Ben Kingsley. She had previously sung in the women's chorus for the 1956 film version of The King and I.
Horne was married from 1960 to 1979 (separated 1974) to the conductor Henry Lewis, with whom she maintained a home in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles for many years, and with whom she had a daughter, Angela. Horne's mother initially had misgivings that the interracial marriage would have a negative impact on Horne's career, saying, "Be his mistress, for God's sake, not his wife," but soon reconciled with the couple.
In 1983, she published (with co-writer Jane Scovell) a candid autobiography, My Life, and a continuation volume, Marilyn Horne, The Song Continues, appeared in 2004.
Horne received many honors during her career. A New York Times article by Robert Jacobson, editor of Opera News, in celebration of the Met's 100th anniversary in 1983, listed the hundred greatest singers who had ever performed at the house and included Horne, the only one still actively singing at the time. She was awarded Yale University's Sanford Medal.
On July 5, 1986, she performed on the New York Philharmonic's tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, which was televised live on ABC Television. The orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta, performed in Central Park. She sang an aria from Carmen by Georges Bizet.
Horne retired from the concert stage in 1999 with a recital at the Chicago Symphony Center. She still occasionally performs at pop concerts (most recently with Broadway star Barbara Cook). Horne has also established the Marilyn Horne Foundation to help preserve the art of vocal recitals. She teaches a series of annual Master Classes at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music; the University of Maryland, College Park; the Manhattan School of Music; and the University of Oklahoma.
In December 2005, shortly before Horne's 72nd birthday, she was diagnosed with localized pancreatic cancer. In January 2007, she appeared at a public function for her Foundation. Interviewed by Norman Lebrecht on BBC Radio 3 on July 26, 2010, she spoke briefly about her cancer and cheerfully said, "I'm still here!"
In 2013, Horne donated her personal archives to the University of Pittsburgh which will publicly display a rotating portion of the collection at its regional campus in Bradford, from which she received an honorary degree in 2004.