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I Never Walked Alone

The Autobiography of an American Singer

By Shirley Verrett
(with Christopher Brooks)

Christopher Brooks and Shirley Verrett

In the post-World War II era, several generations of American singers emerged prominently on U.S. and international opera stages. As never before, African American women were among those numbers, having been inspired by the success of greats like Dorothy Maynor, Camilla Williams, and Marian Anderson. Among those in the post-Anderson era were names like Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, and Shirley Verrett.

Shirley Verrett emerged as an international opera singer by the mid-1960s as a highly sought-after Carmen, but performed over forty roles in her long career. Throughout this career, Miss Verrett performed both major female roles in the same opera (in different productions) including Aida and Amneris, Norma and Adalgisa, and her history-making performance in Berlioz’s epic Les Troyens where she sang Cassandra and Didon on the same night at the Metropolitan Opera.

The Verrett story not only chronicles her celebrated career as an opera singer and recitalist, but it deals forthrightly with many delicate topics. Among them are issues such as religion vs. art; family vs. career (e.g. her forty year bi-racial marriage); African American artists in the predominantly European and European American world of opera; various health challenges; the impact of aging on singers and their psyches, and why African American men have been less successful than women on the concert and opera stage.

Above all, it is a human story told with uncommon honesty and deep self-reflection. It is a work which will not only appeal to specialists and Verrett fans (including the most comprehensive discography of her recordings and film appearances), but to a wider audience. There is a brief synopsis of each opera role Shirley Verrett performed to assist the non-specialist in understanding the context in which she speaks.

All in all, this autobiography of Shirley Verrett reflects the trials and triumphs of an important American artist’s long career. Verrett colleagues, the late Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo have written forewords, and Maestros Zubin Mehta and Claudio Abbado have graciously written afterwords for this book.

Christopher Brooks