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Opera singer Camilla Williams dies at 92

INDIANAPOLIS -- Camilla Williams, believed to be the first African-American woman to appear with a major U.S. opera company, has died. She was 92.

Williams died Sunday at her home in Bloomington, her attorney, Eric Slotegraaf, said yesterday. She died of complications from cancer, said Alain Barker, a spokesman for the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where Williams was a professor emeritus of voice.

Williams' debut with the New York City Opera on May 15, 1946, was thought to make her the first African-American woman to appear with a major U.S. opera company and came nearly nine years before Marian Anderson became the first African-American singer to appear at New York's more prestigious Metropolitan Opera.

In her City Opera debut, Williams sang what would become her signature role, Cio-Cio-San, in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." She displayed "a vividness and subtlety unmatched by any other artist who has assayed the part here in many a year," according to a New York Times review of the performance.

She performed in her hometown of Danville, Va., in 1963 to raise funds to free jailed civil rights demonstrators and sang at the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, D.C., immediately before the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. She also sang at King's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony the following year.

Williams retired from opera in 1971 and taught at Brooklyn College, Bronx College and Queens College until becoming the first African-American professor of voice at Indiana University.

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