Marilyn Horne

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Horne and Henry Lewis in 1961, photo by Carl Van Vechten

Marilyn Horne (born January 16, 1934) is an American mezzo-soprano opera singer. She specialized in roles requiring beauty of tone, excellent breath support, and the ability to execute difficult coloratura passages. She is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honors, and has won four Grammy Awards.


Horne was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania,[1] but moved with her parents to Long Beach, California, when she was 11. At the age of 13, she became part of the newly formed Los Angeles Concert Youth Chorus. She is an alumna of Long Beach Polytechnic High School.[2] As a high school student, Marilyn was part of the St. Luke's Episcopal Church Choir of Long Beach under the direction of William Ripley Dorr.[3] The choir often worked for the movie studios[3] and recorded with Capitol Records.[4] Marilyn and her sister Gloria were part of the St. Luke's Episcopal Church Quartet.[5] She won a scholarship for the University of Southern California[6] where she was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority.[7]

She studied voice under William Vennard and Gwendolyn Koldofsky[8] at the University of Southern California School of Music and participated in Lotte Lehmann's vocal master classes at Music Academy of the West.[9][10]


Horne's first major professional engagement was in 1954, when she dubbed the singing voice of Dorothy Dandridge in the film Carmen Jones.[1] Until that point, she had worked as a background singer for several TV sitcoms, as well as recorded covers of popular songs of the early 1950s, which were sold in dimestores around the country for $1.98. She made an appearance on The Odd Couple as a character named "Jackie", her own nickname, a meek and nervous would-be singer who develops a crush on character Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) and into a full-blown diva as well, playing the role of Carmen in Felix Unger's (Tony Randall) opera group production. She also sang on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She made her Los Angeles debut the same year when she performed the role of Hata in The Bartered Bride with the Los Angeles Guild Opera.

Her first major breakthrough came when her singing ability was recognized by Igor Stravinsky; her operatic career began when he invited her to perform in the 1956 Venice festival. She remained in Europe for three seasons singing for the Gelsenkirchen Opera.[1]

She was highly acclaimed for her performance as Marie in Alban Berg's Wozzeck at the inauguration of Gelsenkirchen's new opera house on May 22, 1960. In 1964, she returned to the United States to appear in Wozzeck at the San Francisco Opera.[1]

For many years, Horne was associated with the Australian soprano Dame Joan Sutherland in their performances of the bel canto repertoire.[1] They first performed together in a concert version of Vincenzo Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda at The Town Hall in Manhattan in February 1961. This performance was so successful, it was repeated twice at Carnegie Hall. In 1965, they were paired again in a performance of Rossini's Semiramide with the Opera Company of Boston, and sang in a joint concert on October 15, 1979, which was telecast as "Live from Lincoln Center".

Horne made her debut at the Royal Opera House in October 1964 as Marie in Wozzeck.[1] Her La Scala debut was as Jocasta in Stravinsky's opéra-oratorio Œdipus rex on March 13, 1969. Another of Horne's breakthroughs occurred that same year during a performance of Rossini's Le siège de Corinthe at La Scala, when Horne received a remarkable mid-act seven-minute ovation.[11] Horne made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1970 as Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma with Sutherland in the title role.[1] She thereafter appeared regularly at the Met, opening the 1972/1973 season as Carmen. A great success there was in Meyerbeer's Le prophète, in John Dexter's production. In 1984, she sang the title role of Handel's opera seria Rinaldo (directed by Frank Corsaro), the first Handel opera ever performed at the Met.

Although best known for her bel canto and opera seria roles, Horne also sang much American music, both contemporary music by composers such as William Bolcom, and traditional popular songs. She can be heard on the soundtrack of the 1961 film Flower Drum Song singing "Love, Look Away" and she sang the role of Lady Thiang on the Philips recording of The King and I starring Julie Andrews and Ben Kingsley. She had previously sung in the women's chorus for the 1956 film version of The King and I.

Horne was married from 1960 to 1979 (separated 1974) to the conductor Henry Lewis, with whom she maintained a home in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles for many years, and with whom she had a daughter, Angela. Horne's mother initially had misgivings that the interracial marriage would have a negative impact on Horne's career, saying, "Be his mistress, for God's sake, not his wife", but soon reconciled with the couple.[12]

In 1983, she published (with co-writer Jane Scovell) a candid autobiography, My Life, and a continuation volume, Marilyn Horne, The Song Continues, appeared in 2004.

Horne received many honors during her career. A New York Times article by Harold C. Schonberg, in celebration of the Met's 100th anniversary in 1983, listed the greatest singers who had ever performed at the house and included Horne, the only one still actively singing at the time.[13] She was awarded Yale University's Sanford Medal.[14]

On July 5, 1986, she performed on the New York Philharmonic's tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, which was televised live on ABC Television.[15] The orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta, performed in Central Park. She sang an aria from Carmen by Georges Bizet.

In January 1993, Horne sang "Make A Rainbow" by American singer and songwriter Portia Nelson, and the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton.

Horne retired from the concert stage in 1999 with a recital at the Chicago Symphony Center. She still occasionally performs at pop concerts (most recently with Broadway star Barbara Cook). Horne has also established the Marilyn Horne Foundation to help preserve the art of vocal recitals. She teaches a series of annual Master Classes at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music; the University of Maryland, College Park; the Manhattan School of Music; and the University of Oklahoma.

In December 2005, shortly before Horne's 72nd birthday, she was diagnosed with localized pancreatic cancer.[16] In January 2007, she appeared at a public function for her Foundation.[17] Interviewed by Norman Lebrecht on BBC Radio 3 on July 26, 2010, she spoke briefly about her cancer and cheerfully said, "I'm still here!"[18]

From 1997 to 2018 Horne directed the Voice Program at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. Since 2018 she holds the position of Honorary Voice Program Director.[19] She is scheduled to teach and remain the head of the jury for the Marilyn Horne Song Competition through 2020.[20]

In 2013, Horne donated her personal archives to the University of Pittsburgh. Since May 6, 2017, a rotating portion of the collection is publicly displayed in the Marilyn Horne Museum and Exhibit Center located at the regional campus in Bradford, from which she received an honorary degree in 2004.[21][22]

Partial discography[edit]

Abridged videography[edit]

  • Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles (Stratas, Fleming; Levine, Graham, 1992) [live] Deutsche Grammophon
  • Rossini: L'italiana in Algeri (M.Merritt, Ahlstedt; Levine, Ponnelle, 1986) [live] Deutsche Grammophon
  • Rossini: Semiramide (Anderson, Ramey; Conlon, Copley, 1990) [live] Kultur
  • Verdi: Falstaff (Freni, Bonney, Lopardo, Plishka; Levine, Zeffirelli, 1992) [live] Deutsche Grammophon
  • Vivaldi: Orlando furioso (Behr, Pizzi, 1989) [live] Kultur

Awards and recognition[edit]

See also[edit]


  • Marilyn Horne: The Song Continues, Marilyn Horne and Jane Scovell, Baskerville Publishers; ISBN 1880909715
  • Marilyn Horne: My Life, Marilyn Horne and Jane Scovell, Atheneum Books; ISBN 068911401X



  1. ^ a b c d e f g "The Kennedy Center | Marilyn Horne". Archived from the original on 2014-08-26. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  2. ^ Horne & Scovell 2004, p. 43.
  3. ^ a b Horne & Scovell 1983, p. 45.
  4. ^ "William Ripley Dorr". Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  5. ^ Horne & Scovell 1983, photo caption.
  6. ^ Horne & Scovell 1983, p. 50.
  7. ^ "Notable pi phis: Theater, Film and Performing Arts". Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  8. ^ a b c "Tanglewood 1990". Boston Symphony Orchestra. 1990. pp. 79, 80. Archived from the original on 21 January 2020. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  9. ^ Kennedy Center: Biographical information for Marilyn Horne Archived 2008-01-06 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Horne & Scovell 2004, p. 52.
  11. ^ Marek, Dan H. (2016). "Chapter 25: Contemporary Alto Singers". Alto : the voice of bel canto. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 204. ISBN 9781442265059. Retrieved 21 January 2020. In 1969 Marilyn Horne made her debut at La Scala, again as Jocasta in Oedipus rex. She then sang Néocles in Rossini's Le siège du Corinthe with Beverly Sills, where she received an unprecedented seven-minute ovation in mid-act.
  12. ^ Ryan, Michael (January 23, 1984). "Marilyn Horne". People. 21 (3). ISSN 0093-7673. Retrieved September 8, 2011.
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Leading clarinetist to receive Sanford Medal". Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  15. ^ "Liberty Receives Classical Salute". Sun Sentinel. July 5, 1986. Archived from the original on February 23, 2015.
  16. ^ Opera News > The Met Opera Guild
  17. ^ Anne Midgette: Marilyn Horne Puts Her Protégés on Parade in Song, The New York Times, January 29, 2007. Retrieved 21 May 2007.
  18. ^ Norman Lebrecht interviews Marilyn Horne, BBC Radio 3, 26 July 2010
  19. ^ "Marilyn Horne | Music Academy". Archived from the original on 2018-12-28. Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  20. ^ "Marilyn Horne transitions to Honorary Voice Program Director". Music Academy. Archived from the original on 2018-12-29. Retrieved 2018-12-28. Alt URL
  21. ^ "Horne archives to be housed in downtown museum" (Press release). University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. September 3, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2013.
  22. ^ "About the Marilyn Horne Museum". THE MARILYN HORNE MUSEUM. Archived from the original on 2017-10-21. Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  23. ^ a b c d "Artist: Marilyn Horne". Archived from the original on 21 January 2020. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  24. ^ "National Endowment of the Arts". Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  25. ^ "Culture ; Cabinet et services rattachés au Ministre ; Cabinet ; Bureau Cabinet (1962-2000)". (in French). Pierrefitte-sur-Seine: Archives nationales (France). 2002. p. 82. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  26. ^ Otto, Mary (24 December 1995). "Marilyn Horne, A Diva Now Serene, Is Among Kennedy Center Honorees". Archived from the original on 2 October 2016. Retrieved 27 November 2015.

External links[edit]