DU Special Collections

Oral history interview with William Warfield

Oral history interview with William Warfield
Warfield, William
Sound Recording, Sound Recording
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William Warfield recounts his early experiences of studying music with well-known artists such as Robert Nathaniel Dett and Paul Robeson, and some of his early performance experiences. He discusses his approach to performing any musical work, including spirituals and classical works, in which he visualizes what the music is saying before and while he performs it. He describes the spiritual as a folk song that is part of the cultural inheritance of all Americans, and believes that the concretized spirituals, or spirituals as art songs, are still a valid expression of the original slave experience. He also describes some of his teaching experiences at Northwestern University and believes that an important part of his calling as an artist was to teach and awaken the artistry of his students., Born in Arkansas, William Warfield (1920-2002) moved to Rochester, N.Y., with his family. He pursued his undergraduate and graduate studies in voice at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester and established himself as a vocal artist with a recital debut in New York's Town Hall in 1950. In addition to Warfield's musical abilities as a baritone, he was also known for his acting capabilities, with one of his most memorable roles as the title role in George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess. He received numerous honors and awards including an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Arkansas, an honorary Doctorate from Lafayette University (Easton, PA) for his "Contributions in the Arts", and a "Doctor of Human Letters" from Augustana College in Illinois. He devoted his time to the National Association of Negro Musicians and the Schiller Institute where he conducted voice-training master classes. In 1984 he won a Grammy Award in the "Spoken Word" category for his narration of Aaron Copeland's "A Lincoln Portrait." He served on the faculty of the University of Illinois, and was a professor of voice at Northwestern University prior to his death., Conducted Aug. 4, 1999, in Houston, TX at the National Association of Negro Musicians Convention.