ROCHESTER, NY William Warfield, one of the great vocal artists of the 20th century, will help usher in the 21st century at his alma mater, the Eastman School of Music. The Grammy Award-winning bass-baritone who was raised in Rochester and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastman in 1942 and 1946, respectively is known around the world for his work as a soloist, recitalist, actor, and narrator. He is perhaps best known for his role as Porgy in George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess, as well as for his feature role as Joe the dock hand in the musical Showboat. Warfield will appear in two different benefit concerts with Eastman students and faculty during his return to Rochester this month, sponsored by the Eastman School and the William Warfield Scholarship Committee, Inc.
In concert with the Eastman Philharmonia 8 p.m., Wed., January 26 Eastman Theatre
In the premier concert a tribute celebrating Warfield’s 80th birthday the Eastman Philharmonia conducted by Mendi Rodan will perform and Warfield will narrate New Morning for the World, a compelling work for speaker and orchestra. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Eastman Professor of Composition Joseph Schwantner, the text features the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Following intermission, during which the School will present Warfield with an Alumni Achievement Award, the orchestra will perform Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. After the concert, a reception for all will be held on the Cominsky Promenade (second floor of the Eastman School Main Building).
Preceding the concert, a gala dinner honoring Warfield and hosted by the Warfield Scholarship Committee will be held at Villa D’Este Ballroom (formerly the Rochester Club Ballroom), 120 East Ave. The benefit, which is open to the public, begins at 5:30 p.m. Tickets (including a cash bar, dinner, concert, and post-concert reception) are $75. For more information, call 274-1040. All proceeds will benefit the William Warfield Scholarship Fund.
General admission tickets to the concert only are $10 (free to students and University of Rochester ID holders) and are available at Ticket Express, 100 East Ave., or by calling 222-5000. They also will be available at the theatre box office one hour before the performance.
In concert with the Eastman Virtuosi 3 p.m., Sun., January 23 The Harley School
Warfield also will be the featured performer with the Eastman Virtuosi an ensemble featuring members of Eastman’s world renowned performance faculty in its first Rochester performance in a non-Eastman venue. In the concert, a special benefit at the Wilson Arts Center Theatre of the Harley School (1981 Clover St., Brighton), Warfield will sing several Copland songs as well as three spirituals. In addition, Eastman faculty artists including Bonita Boyd (flute), Steven Doane (cello), Nicholas Goluses (guitar), John Hunt (bassoon), James Thompson (trumpet), and Zvi Zeitlin (violin) will perform works by Bach and others. A chamber orchestra featuring other Eastman faculty and advanced students, conducted by Mendi Rodan, professor of conducting and ensembles, will perform with Warfield.
“We’re thrilled that Mr. Warfield will be joining the Eastman Virtuosi in our first outreach concert in the Rochester community,” said Bonita Boyd, professor of flute at Eastman and co-founder of the Eastman Virtuosi. “He’s helping us showcase the incredible musical talent that exists in our own backyard.” Boyd and John Hunt, associate professor of bassoon, founded the Eastman Virtuosi in 1995 and envisioned it as a musical “gift” to the community.
Tickets for the concert at Harley are $5 per person, including a reception for all that follows the performance. They are available in advance in person or by mail until Jan. 21 at Citibank, 1441 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618 (attention Fran O’Neill) or by calling the Harley School (442-1770, ext. 3031). All remaining tickets will be sold at the door one hour before the start of the concert. Proceeds benefit the Eastman School International Scholarship Fund as well as the scholarship fund at the Harley School.
Note to editors: Mr. Warfield is available for interviews on a limited basis.
About William Warfield
Acclaimed throughout the world as one of the great vocal artists of our times, William Warfield is a star in every field open to a singer’s art. His recital debut in New York’s famous Town Hall on March 19, 1950, put this artist overnight into the front ranks of concert artists. That historic debut was celebrated March 24, 1995, in Carnegie Hall when for its 25th anniversary Warfield gave a recital for the benefit of the Duke Ellington Cancer Center.
Since Warfield’s remarkable debut his career has flourished in a wide assortment of memorable achievements. In 1950, he was invited by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to tour that continent for 35 concerts, including solo performances with their five leading symphony orchestras. Soon after, he signed a contract with MGM to play the featured role in the most recent version of the great Edna Feber-Jerome Kern musical Showboat, as Joe the dock hand.
Destined to become one of America’s greats, Warfield was born in West Helena, Arkansas, in 1920, the eldest of five sons. His family moved to Rochester, New York, when he was a small child for better employment and educational opportunities. During his senior year in high school, Warfield won the National Music Education league regional competition, then went on to win first prize in the National Finals in St. Louis. Awarded a scholarship to any American music school of his choice, he chose the Eastman School of the University of Rochester. There the young singer earned his bachelor of arts degree, and after four interim years in military service, returned to Eastman to study for his master’s degree.
After military service, Warfield performed as lead singer in the national touring company of the Broadway hit Call Me Mister. (It is notable that three other members of that same “second company” cast went on to achieve fame in the entertainment world: comedian Buddy Hackett, the romantic comedy Carl Reiner, and the famous choreographer-dancer-director Robert Fosse.)
In the almost 40 intervening years, Warfield’s career has expanded and deepened without interruption countless concerts, recitals, even performances as a non-singing narrator with many honors and awards for his impressive contributions to the arts. Among his frequent appearances in foreign countries, Warfield has made six separate tours for the U.S. Department of State, more than any other American solo artist.
Through the years critics have commented that Warfield’s superiority as recitalist stems from his unusual acting ability, proven in his most famous role as the lead in George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess. A most memorable performance was his starring role as “De Lawd” in the 1957 and 1959 NBC-TV Hallmark Hall of Fame productions of Marc Connelly’s The Green Pastures.
His many honors and awards include an honorary doctorate of law from the University of Arkansas in 1972, and an honorary doctorate for “Contribution in the Arts” from Lafayette University (Easton, PA) in 1977. Similar honorary degrees have been awarded to Warfield: Boston University in 1982; “Doctor of Human Letters” from Augustana College (Illinois) in 1983; James Milikin University (Illinois) in 1984, Illinois State University, Bloomington in 1997 and, Moorehouse College, Atlanta in 1997. In 1996 he also was honored with the “Dushkin Award” from the Music Center of the Northshore. For many years Warfield also has dedicated his time and devotion to the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM).
Warfield won a Grammy in the “spoken word” category for his outstanding narrati
on of Aaron CoplandÕs A Lincoln Portrait, accompanied by the Eastman Philharmonia, currently in release under the Mercury-Philips label.
His autobiography, William Warfield: My Music and My Life was published in October 1992, and albums are now available of Walton’s Facade, Stravinsky’s L’histoire du Soldat, and Afro-American spirituals.
Warfield was recently a visiting professor at the University of Texas in San Antonio, and was appointed professor of music at Northwestern University in 1994.