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Columbia College Chicago
William Brown papers

William Brown papers

Brown, William, 1938–2004

Papers dated circa 1947 and 1955 to 2003, including concert programs, promotional materials, correspondence, photographs and media concerning his career as an operatic tenor and recitalist.

10 boxes (circa 9 linear feet)

Received from Brenda Kelly, 2007, with additional donations by Ann Sears, December 2008.

Biographical note:

William A. Brown was born on May 29, 1938, in Jackson, Mississippi. Brown began singing in his local church choir at an early age and in 1949, he started more formal musical training on the trumpet and piano. His success as a trumpeter at Jim Hill High School afforded him the opportunity to attend Jackson State College on a full scholarship in 1955. However, after performing there in his first opera, Cavalleria Rusticana, Brown changed his concentration to voice, graduating in 1959 with a BME. He then enrolled at Indiana University–Bloomington in to study voice. After earning his master of music degree in 1962, Brown enlisted in the United States Navy and served as a chief petty officer and chorister for the U.S. Navy Band “Sea Chanters” until 1966.

In 1968, William Brown made his debut with the New York City Opera in Hugo Weisgall’s Nine Rivers from Jordan and went on to become an internationally acclaimed concert, opera, and recording artist known for his virtuosity and beautiful tone. He was a champion of twentieth-century music and made an important contribution to the public appreciation of black music in 1970 when he gave recitals nationwide titled “Black Composers Concert(s),” which highlighted music written by black composers. Brown was a charter member of the Black Music Repertory Ensemble at the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago, Illinois. His recorded work appears on CBS Records, Nonesuch, New World, and CRI among others. Brown continued to perform until late 2002 in concerts with the Boston, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Royal Philharmonic, Detroit, and Capetown symphonies, as well as in operatic roles with the New York City, Lake George Opera Festival, Opera Ebony, and Goldovsky opera companies, and many more. Ebony magazine listed William Brown as one of the “ten new voices of the eighties.”

In 1972, he took the position of Associate Professor of Music at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1993, Brown received their Distinguished Professor Award; he remained on the faculty until his untimely death in 2004. His home state of Mississippi proclaimed a William Brown Day in his honor.

Scope note:

The William Brown papers consist of concert programs, correspondence, newspaper and magazine articles, photographs, slides, cassettes, compact discs, and videotapes. The bulk of the collection consists of more than 200 photographs of William Brown and other colleagues taken during his career. Included within this part of the collection are photographs from his childhood, naval duties, and operatic performances. The extensive collection of concert programs chart his performing career from 1968 to 2003.

Original order has been maintained much as possible. The collection is then arranged by type of material and is alphabetically and chronologically arranged within each folder.

For further reference, see also:

  • Southern, Eileen. 1982. Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.
  • Smith, Eric Ledell. 1995. Blacks in Opera: An Encyclopedia of People and Companies, 1873–1993. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland.