Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type

Doctoral Essay

Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)


Vocal Performance (Music)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Esther Jane Hardenbergh

Second Committee Member

Kevin Short

Third Committee Member

Rachel LeBon

Fourth Committee Member

Stephen Zdzinski


The purpose of this essay is to identify the first African American teachers to join the faculties of prestigious predominately white institutions in the 1960s and 1970s. In order to accomplish this, sources on African American musicians were examined, university archivists were consulted, and interviews were conducted. While many singing teachers helped pave the way, Sylvia Olden Lee, Willis Patterson, and Camilla Williams were found to be the first African American voice teachers to establish themselves as instructors in the highest-ranked vocal programs of the United States; as such, the focus of this essay is on those three pedagogues. The strong correlation between the timing of their appointments and the Civil Rights Movement throughout the United States and on college campuses suggests that politics played an influential role in encouraging music departments to include African American voice teachers on their faculties. By critically considering the implications of this occurrence and the contributions of the first African American teachers of singing, the significance of their presence is understood to have expanded the role of African American participation within the academic music establishment in the music college and conservatory system.


African American; Civil Rights; Voice Teachers; Conservatory; Willis Patterson; Sylvia Olden Lee