Classic FM digital radio has released its list of black opera singers that everyone should know. The list encompasses artists of the past that have shaped the music industry and those of the present that are still making history. Among those is Jamaican, Sir Willard Wentworth White, OM, CBE.
Born in Jamaica, White’s rich, velvety baritone, combined with his mesmerizing stage presence, has earned the British opera singer international renown. He’s regularly named as one of the most respected and influential opera stars within the past 40 years and he’s graced the stages of the most prestigious venues.
In 2019, White performed at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the World War II landings in Normandy. During the solemn event, he performed “Chant des Partisans” with Queen Elizabeth the II of the UK and French President Emmanuel Macron in attendance.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica on Oct. 10, 1946, White was inspired by Nat King Cole, along with American baritone and civil rights activist, Paul Robeson. White was a founding member of The Jamaican Folk Singers and trained at the Jamaican School of Music.
Evelyn Rothwell, wife of conductor, Sir John Barbirolli, heard White sing during a visit to Jamaica. She suggested he study in London to hone his considerable skills. In a twist of fate, White’s father instead bought him a one-way ticket to New York City because it was cheaper.
White won a scholarship to The Julliard School where he was mentored by bass Giorgio Tozzi. His talent was so great that he was selected by revered opera singer, Maria Callas, to participate in the master classes she gave at the school from 1971-1972.
White has been the president of the Royal Northern College of Music since 2008 and received a Grammy Award for his recording of “Porgy and Bess.” He’s a recipient of the Gold Musgrave Medal of The Institute of Jamaica and received the CBE. He was made a Knight Bachelor during the 2004 Birthday Honours in the UK. White received the Jamaican Order of Merit for eminent international distinction in the performing arts in 2000.