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Willard White Biography

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Sir Willard Wentworth White CBE (b. October 10, 1946) is a Jamaican-born British bass-baritone.

He was born into a poor but supportive Jamaican family in Kingston. His father was a dockworker; his mother was illiterate. White first began to learn music by listening to the radio and singing Nat King Cole songs. He was also inspired by the American singer and civil rights activist, Paul Robeson. He was a founding member of the Jamaica Folk Singers, sang with the Jamaica Amateur Operatic Society and trained at the Jamaican School of Music. In a passing visit to Jamaica, Evelyn Rothwell (wife of conductor Sir John Barbirolli) heard him sing and suggested that he go to study in London. Instead, his father bought him a one-way ticket to New York, because “the flight was cheaper”. He won a scholarship and continued his studies at the Juilliard School.

He made his debut with New York City Opera in 1974 as Colline in La Bohème. In 1976, he made his London opera debut with English National Opera as Seneca in Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea, having appeared earlier in the same year in Porgy and Bess. He has since sung at the Met, Covent Garden, Paris Bastille, the opera houses of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the major European cities as well as the Festivals at Glyndebourne, Aix en Provence and Salzburg.

In addition to covering a wide range of the bass-baritone roles in the standard repertoire by Mozart, Handel, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini and Wagner, White has explored less traditional, and in many cases, completely unfamiliar territory by appearing as Bluebeard in Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, Golaud in Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande, Tchélio in Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges, the title role in Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise, Nekrotzar in György Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre, Claggart in Britten's Billy Budd, John Adams’ El Niño, Nick Shadow in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Creon in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, the title role in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Ivan in Khovanshchina.

In addition to his operatic repertoire, White has also appeared in concerts and recitals throughout Europe, the USA and in the Far East. He has sung regularly with the world’s major conductors and orchestras and he has appeared as soloist many times at the BBC Proms, including the Last Night of the Proms, the Proms in the Park and most recently (2005) Michael Tippett's A Child of our Time at the First Night of the Proms. His concert programme An Evening with Willard White – a tribute to Paul Robeson is a huge success at festivals, has been shown on BBC television and has been issued on CD. His latest CD, My Way, was released on the Sony label.

Among his most memorable roles is Mephistopheles in The Damnation of Faust

A talented actor, he has starred in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of the play Othello (1990), with Ian McKellen as Iago, and Imogen Stubbs as Desdemona; and the Glyndebourne production (1993) of the opera Porgy and Bess, both directed by Trevor Nunn and both videotaped for television.

In 1977, White received a Grammy award (for Porgy and Bess). He also received the Gold Musgrave Medal of The Institute of Jamaica. In 1995 he was awarded the CBE and he was made a Knight Bachelor in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2004.

White is the father of seven children and lives in Lewisham, London.
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