|Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon
Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon was the fifth of six
daughters born to Irene and John Wesley
Dobbs. She grew up in Sweet Auburn, and was drawn to music
from an early age. Once, her father met Duke
Ellington at Ma Suttons restaurant and convinced the Duke
to come to his home and play piano for his girls to their
After graduating as valedictorian of her class
at Spelman College, Mattiwilda
headed to New York City, at her father's insistence, to pursue
voice lessons. She decided to focus on opera, even though
there weren't many opportunities for African Americans in
the opera world then. At age 26, she won an international
music competition in Geneva, and her career took off. She
was the first black woman to appear in a principal role at
the world-famous La Scala Opera House in Milan Italy. She
played Elvira in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri. Her father
was very proud of her accomplishments and carried articles
about her success with him to pull out and talk about when
the topic arose.
As she became an internationally famous opera
star, Mattiwilda continuously refused to perform before segregated
audiences in Atlanta - with blacks on one side of the aisle
and whites on another. Finally, in 1962, she performed for
a desegregated audience at the Atlanta City Auditorium. After
her performance concluded, Mayor Ivan
Allen, Jr. presented Mattiwilda with a bouquet of roses
and said, "You have brought great honor to Atlanta by
your appearances all over the world" (pictured above).
From the Daily London Express, May 26,
is a perfect Glyndebourne opera- enhanced last night by
Oliver Messel's enchanting designs and a well chosen cast.
The only survivor from Peter Ebert's original production
5 years ago is Matiwilda Dobbs, the American Negro soprano,
who is practically irreplaceable as the heroine Constanze.
She moves through the farcical comedy of captives in a
Turkish Harem with the dignity of a goddess and the voice
of an angle. The florid music she has to sing revealed
her clarity and accuracy of technique, a marvelous sweetness
of tone, and eloquent dramatic expression when required.
The above was researched and written by Lauren Keating, freelance