Graves was born on March 7, 1964, in Washington, D.C., to Charles Graves and Dorothy (Middleton) Graves-Kenner. She is the middle of three children and was raised by her mother on Galveston Street, S.W., in the Bellevue section of Washington. She graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 1981. Graves studied voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the New England Conservatory with Helen Hodam. She worked at the Wolf Trap Opera Company, which provides further training and experience for young singers who are between their academic training and full-time professional careers. Soon after, she was invited by David Gockley to participate in the Houston Opera Studio, from 1988 to 1990, where she studied with Elena Nikolaidi.
She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1995 and has appeared at many opera houses. Though her repertoire is extensive, her signature parts are the title roles in Carmen and Samson et Dalila. On January 20, 2005, she sang the patriotic song "American Anthem" during the 55th Presidential Inauguration, between the swearing-in ceremonies of Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush for their second terms in office.
Graves sang "America the Beautiful" and "The Lord's Prayer" at the Washington National Cathedral during a memorial service for the victims of 9/11 on September 14, 2001, attended by President Bush, members of Congress, other politicians and representatives of foreign governments.
In 2003, Graves performed in front of a live audience at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia for a television special, Denyce Graves: Breaking the Rules. In 2005, she hosted the radio show Voce di Donna (Voice of a Lady) on Vox!, the vocal classical music channel of XM Satellite Radio, on which she interviewed various opera singers. Graves often was heard on The Tony Kornheiser Show radio program with her rendition of the "Mailbag Theme".
She performed the role of Charlotte in the opera Werther opposite Andrea Bocelli for the Michigan Opera Theatre, the first opera broadcast on the Internet in its entirety in 1999. She is currently an industry panelist on American Idol Underground.
On January 2, 2007, Graves performed "The Lord's Prayer" at the state funeral for Gerald Ford at the Washington National Cathedral.
On April 12, 2009, Graves performed a tribute concert to Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, organized by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. In May 2010, Graves performed a concert with tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the United States Supreme Court Building for the Supreme Court justices.
On the evening of September 11, 2011, Graves performed at the "Concert for Hope" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. That same year, she appeared as a Pennington Great Performers series artist with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra.
Graves performed "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" with the Voices of Tomorrow Choir at the dedication ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. on September 24, 2016.
Denyce Graves is currently on the Voice Faculty at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, MD.
In the late 1980s Graves was involved with tenor Fernando del Valle. She later married guitarist David Perry in 1990, but the two divorced in the early 2000s. Graves then had a relationship with French composer and clarinetist Vincent Thomas. After breaking up Graves discovered she was pregnant, something she thought was impossible because she had been told that fibroids and other conditions prevented her from getting pregnant. In June 2004, she gave birth to Ella (named after Ella Fitzgerald) via emergency C-section in Paris. In June 2006, she met Robert Montgomery, a Johns Hopkins doctor, on an airplane from Dulles Airport to Paris. They were married on June 29, 2009, in a family-only affair. In August the couple travelled to Kenya for a tradition Maasai blessing and had a five-day wedding celebration in September that featured a kick-off party in a private airplane hangar, a rehearsal dinner at their home, a reception at the Anderson House in Dupont Circle, and a day-after picnic on the grounds of Duke Ellington High School. Montgomery is now the chief of transplantation at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. The couple resides in Bethesda, Maryland.
- Tommasini, Anthony (October 14, 1995). "Denyce Graves, From the Choir to Carmen". The New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
- Denyce Graves. Answers.com
- Baker, Peter; Fletcher, Michael A. (January 21, 2005). "Bush Pledges to Spread Freedom". The Washington Post. p. A1. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
- McCarthy, Ellen (September 14, 2009). "Third Wedding's a Charm for Denyce Graves". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
- Barnes, Robert (May 17, 2010). "Opera-loving justices bring the music to the high court". The Washington Post.
- Tucker, Neely (October 24, 2004). "Denyce Graves, After the Lows". The Washington Post. p. A1. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
- "The Details". Washingtonpost.com. September 14, 2009. Retrieved March 13, 2010.