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Columbia College Chicago
Ben Holt papers

Ben Holt papers

Holt, Ben

Papers, dated circa 1980 to circa 1990 and undated, primarily ephemera, clippings, and programs concerning his career as a concert and operatic singer. Also included are scores and sheet music (some annotated), posters, a collection of taped recordings of his performances, commercial sound recordings, and books from his library.

7 boxes and 17 volumes
19 reel to reel tapes, 3 cassettes, circa 7 linear feet of LPs

Donated by Mayme Wilkins Holt, 1992.

Biographical note:

Ben Holt, a baritone who sang with the Metropolitan and New York City opera companies, was only thirty-four years old when he died in 1990 of Hodgkin's Disease. He was born in Washington, D.C., in 1955, and first performed at the age of eight at Takoma Elementary School in their production of Mendelssohn's Elijah. Holt studied voice at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, winning a scholarship two years later to the Juilliard School's Opera program.

Winner of numerous awards and fellowships, Holt is best known for playing the title role Malcolm in Anthony Davis's opera, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X in the 1986 New York City Opera company world premiere production, occasioning a ten-minute standing ovation when he came out for a bow on opening night. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1985 as Schaunard in Puccini's La Bohème. Other major operatic roles included Josiah in Thea Musgrave's Harriet, the Woman Called Moses, Porgy in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, and Randall Ware in Ulysses Kay's Jubilee.

A popular recitalist, he often programmed work by black composers and arrangements of spirituals. Holt appeared in the Kennedy Center's 1979 National Black Music Colloquium and Competition presentation of composition finalists and went on to perform with a number of major orchestras in his brief career, including the New York Philharmonic, the National Symphony, and Canada's Tafelmusik. Unfortunately, he was only able to make a few recordings.

The annual Ben Holt Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in 1996 at the Juilliard School of Music to help support students of African and/or Native heritage, and an annual concert series in his name ran at Lawrence University for several years. Ben Holt is remembered for his exciting stage presence as well as his fine voice.

Scope note:

The collection documents his career as a recitalist and performer of baritone roles in opera and consists almost entirely of ephemera, programs, clippings, reviews, and posters. There are a few textbooks and a considerable collection of operatic scores and sheet music. A complete photocopied score to the Davis opera can also be found, along with partial scores to other operas featuring black performers and by black composers and songs and other classical repertoire.

Correspondence and personal documents, however, are almost entirely lacking.

Holt's record collection, consisting of about 7 linear feet of LPs in a variety of genres and 17 books and music score books were donated along with his papers. An inventory to the books and recordings is available onsite. There is also a box of reel-to-reel and cassette sound recordings of particular interest that document some of his performances and radio interviews, including his debut at Carnegie Hall on May 12, 1987.