Please feel free to share your thoughts and recollections about soprano Camilla Williams.  Note: the form is at the bottom of this page.

22 Responses to Remembrances

  1. Lawrence Frank Gee says:

    Camilla Williams was my voice teacher from 1982-1986 and one of my dearest friends thereafter. I played for many of her students and she taught me voice personally. She taught me all that I know as a teacher of voice, and I have been able to help many singers to achieve their potential as a result of all that she gave to me not only in terms of vocal technical knowledge but also in terms of my individual development as a musician and as a person. Very few people taught as competently and clearly as she taught and even into her old age her singing demonstrated that singing properly can preserve the voice as well as bring it to its maximum potential. Her wisdom and heart of compassion were as all encompassing as her knowledge of singing was. She will never be replaced.

  2. Doni Lystra, President, National Society of Arts & Letters says:

    The members of the National Society of Arts and Letters extend sincere condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Camilla Williams.

    Camilla Williams was a member of the Bloomington Chapter of NSAL. I had the honor of sharing a table with her at one of our NSAL career award banquets several years ago. She was a lovely and intelligent conversationalist. It was a pleasure to have met her.
    She was a great artist and clearly a star.

  3. A Master’s voice student in 1977, I met Ms. Williams soon after she arrived in Bloomington. She was so glamorous, so ebullient, so warm and pleased with her new adventure. She told us right away (in German, but the hint of a Southern drawl) that she was the first black women on the operatic stage after the war . . . never hinting that perhaps others had gotten credit that belonged to her. Years later, when I returned to IU, she was just as glamorous, just as sunshine-y and arguably the fanciest shopper at the grocery store, dazzling in her hats and furs and heels and jewels, but just as nice as she could be to everyone. I’m proud to have known her, and I hope her family and loved ones are enjoying the many heartfelt tributes coming their way.

  4. Robert T. Townsend says:

    Professor Williams will be missed by so many of us. I had the pleasure of meeting her in 1987 as a student. She gave so much of herself to her students and those of us who would accompany or just visit and listen. She encourage me to sing by showing me my voice. I will always remember the quote she had one of her students say at a discouraging lesson: “God has given me a great gift; and I will be thankful by learning.” This statement will be with me the rest of my life.

    I’ll see you again, Professor Williams. Thank you for your life.

  5. David Michael Hertz says:

    Camilla Williams was a great human being and a great artist. I remember her tremendous spirit from my first meeting with her many years ago when she was first appointed to Indiana. We happened to sit together on an airplane. I came away from our conversation thinking about how I had never before met such a marvelous human being, so positive, so embracing of life in all its aspects. Later I learned how truly distinguished she was and I was even more amazed. Even later, when I joined the faculty in Comparative Literature, I again met Camilla Williams and I remember how completely warm and unpretentious she was whenever we spoke about music or art or life in general. She was one of the greatest people I have ever met.

  6. Antonio Broadnax says:

    Camilla Williams or as I know her Aunt Camilla, was as beautiful and kind as a person could be. My Grandmother Anna Montgomery is the the daughter of Helen Wright who is Camilla’s Sister. Aunt Camilla you will truly be missed and your spirit will continue to live in us all. Say Hi to Grandma Helen for me God has recieved another beautiful angel to live in his Kingdom.

  7. Georgene Fountain says:

    I am saddened to hear of Ms. Williams’ passing. She was my teacher and friend – always encouraging me to live my life’s purpose and keep singing always. I called her periodically to talk and make her laugh. She was diamond not in the rough but a gem glowing brightly for all to see. My favorite voice lesson was when my mother came to visit. They grew up near each other and had the same piano teacher. My mother said she felt honored to meet Ms. Williams and Ms. Williams said she was honored to meet my mother. She shared her love of singing and firmly taught me to give my best to every song. I will always remember her showing me how to sing “Give Me Jesus.” I will miss her.

    Georgene Fountain
    -Germantown, MD

  8. Randy Elkins says:

    I was an organ and church music major at IU in the 1980’s. After playing for a few lessons in Miss William’s studio she informed me that if I was going to make a career of telling other people how to sing I should know what I was doing and I must sign up for lessons with her. One knows not to argue with a force of nature and so I signed up.

    I played for several of her students and often was asked to come to her condo on Saturdays to play for extra students. Those days were great! She loved to feed students and I had more “drop” biscuits, baked chicken, homemade macaroni and cheese and various other Southern delicacies. (I’m from Atlanta so this made me feel right at home.) I’ll never forget the Saturday when I was playing for lessons and the phone rang. She sent me to answer it (a Queen Anne model) and the voice on the other end was Marion Anderson. Well…I just about lost it. Miss Williams got on the phone and said “oh, that was my little boy, Randy.”

    I’ll never forget the outings to Red Lobster. There’s Miss Williams decked out in a turban, 3 or 4 inch heels, tight skirt, and a lobster bib!!! Then there were the suppers at Long John Silvers (I believe it was there) with Walter Cassel and his wife. I would just sit there and listen to the stories of their career.

    I went to my first MLK Day service with Miss Williams at 2nd Baptist in Bloomington. I was probably the only white face there. Several of her students had parts in the service and it was a very moving time. Hearing her stories of trying to pursue a performing career during segregation was an education in itself. She told of having to ride on separate train cars from the other singers, she couldn’t stay in the hotels, and once Lazlo Halas even turned the entire New York City opera production that was supposed to do Butterfly in Washington D.C. around because they couldn’t use the negro Butterfly. There was a law suit that followed and all the proper drama.

    Miss Williams did say that as far as hotel accommodations went she came out ahead sometimes because she would wind up staying on estates with servants, etc. while the rest of the cast had to stay in a mere hotel.

    And yes, I did learn how to sing, how to accompany, how to love, and how to give honest, informed interpretations of music. As all IU Music School students know, you learn from every contact with the luminary faculty you make. Miss Williams was at my graduate organ recital and you can hear her whooping at the end of a particularly strenuous pedal solo! Oh to feel that free and enthusiastic.

    I had lost touch with Miss Williams but have never forgotten the lessons. I must now admit that I did pinch a publicity photo from her when I was in school and it has a prominent place in a silver frame on my piano.

    God bless one of the musical forces in my life.

    • Nina Yip says:

      Hi Randy,
      Reading your message brought back a lot of memories! (and I still remember your amazing “feet only” organ piece at your recital!) Ms. Williams was not only supportive of her voice students but also us the accompanists! She also came to my piano recitals!! What an amazing lady whose heart was like gold. I still can’t believe she is gone. But what’s amazing is that she touched our heart, and I believe she had played a big part in who we have become who we are today.
      Glad to read your message here!

  9. Elizabeth Nash says:

    Ruhe sanft, beloved friend and wise counselor.

  10. Avance Byrd says:

    Rest in peace Mrs Williams.

  11. The staff of the Amistad Research Center, which is proud to house the personal papers of Ms. Williams, extends its condolences to the family and friends of Camilla Williams. She was not only a wonderful singer and pioneer, but such a joyful spirit.

  12. Susan Oehler Herrick says:

    Miss Camilla Williams commanded the stages of world class concert halls with her voice and presence as an individual, and she brought this power into her teaching–whether formally working with her vocal students in private or sharing her music and knowledge with the larger community in Bloomington. During graduate study at Indiana University in the 1990s I experienced Miss Williams from the seats of lecture halls and church pews, where she shared her expertise with all. I would walk away feeling grateful that Miss Williams found these events valuable in the (literally) grand scheme of her work. With these memories and more, I send my sincere condolences to the family, students, dear friends, and colleagues of Miss Camilla Williams at this time of loss.

  13. Christopher says:

    Camilla was such a wonderful person. She was never underdressed and sometimes overdressed. She always asked how my mother was every time I saw her, and she only met my mother one time. Her laugh could be found in a crowd. It was a pleasure knowing her.

  14. Stephanie Shonekan says:

    On the evening of January 29, 2012, a great American Opera singer who was known for her strong soprano voice quietly passed away. At the age of 92, Camilla Williams leaves behind a powerful legacy of triumph, bravery and supreme operatic talent. While it is true that the opera world will remember her as a pioneer who opened the doors for many black female singers like Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, and Jessye Norman, Camilla Williams will also be remembered by the numerous students she trained and inspired over almost four decades. I am one of those students. She did not teach me to sing, but she taught me to trust myself as a scholar and as a writer. Of all the people in the world who could have written her life story, she took a chance on me, a young West African girl, whose only qualification was the fact that she was open and curious and willing to learn what it must have been like to be a young African American girl born and raised in the segregated south. Together, we worked on her story and when it was finally published in 2011, she looked at me with that intensity and integrity that I will always remember and, with tears in her eyes, said, “Stephanie, you have done well. You have truly captured me.” Like all the people she impacted over the years—from Martin Luther King to Dwight Eisenhower to Sammy Davis Jr. to Helen Keller—I will remember her as a visionary griot, a tenacious woman of faith, and a gracious diva.

  15. Danielle Champoux Bohnke says:

    Ms. Williams was my voice teacher at IU from 1990-1994, and learning how to sing was only a portion of her lessons. She also taught humility and perseverence, grace and humor (lots of humor), truth and kindness. I am truly blessed to have known her and find no coincidence in His plan that Ms. Williams was a dear part of my life. I am certain that all 12 gates to the City opened wide when she arrived to enter.

  16. Nina Yip says:

    I played piano for Ms. Williams voice students for 6 years and took voice lessons from her for 5 years. Ms. Williams was my teacher, my mentor, my dearest friend. I learned valuable music and life lessons from her. Even up til today whenever I coach singers, I am quoting her all the time. I am so glad that I was able to see her one last time this past summer. I am deeply saddened by the news of her passing away. Her legacy and her spirit will forever live. I love you, Ms. Williams.

    • Randy Elkins says:


      So good to see your listing! It’s great to hear from students from that era.

      Randy Elkins

  17. All of my classmates who were fortunate to have Camilla Williams as a voice professor felt privileged to be her students. I was able to attend a few master classes where I soaked up her knowledge and learned from critiques. May you always be blessed by your memories of your life beside her.

  18. Doug Allen Hochstedler says:

    Ms. Williams was my voice coach in 1988 at IU. I found her fascinating and loved every minute I spent with her. She was truly a legend.

  19. Laurie Staring says:

    I only met Prof. Williams once, but she was the kind of woman who left a lasting impression. She had just returned from Washington DC and was joining a group of young female musicians (which I was part of) for a brunch. She told us that she had sung for President Clinton, and that she’d ended with a high A and she had “held it out to kingdom come!” She was so friendly and approachable. She was a beautiful woman: graceful and intelligent. She opened doors for so many singers. Who knows if there would have been a Leontyne Price had singers like Marion Anderson and Camilla Williams not laid down the foundation for equality? For her family and friends who are left behind, I am so sorry for your loss. But thank you so much for sharing her with the rest of us. The world would be a far worse place if it hadn’t been for her presence. Today I’ll listen to her recording of Porgy and Bess and think of her.

  20. While I was not fortunate enough to know her personally, her legacy is undeniable and she made tremendous waves in the vocal community. Including among former teachers, colleagues, and friends. She was beloved by all her students and colleagues and will, no doubt, be sorely missed. I extend the very deepest sympathy on the loss of such an incredible woman.

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