Regardless of their talents, African American singers were for years generally barred from performing with this country's more prestigious opera companies. In 1952, when audiences experienced the rich voice of Mississippi-born soprano Leontyne Price in a revival of Porgy and Bess , it became clear that this long-standing barrier would soon be breached. In the years following, Price's performances with opera companies both here and in Europe drew floods of unqualified praise. With her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1961, she had clearly become American opera's first black superstar. One critic who heard her on that occasion declared her performance "virtually without flaws."
This portrait is one of many that the New York artist Bradley Phillips painted of Price. Phillips once indicated that his fascination with her stemmed partly from his awe at how she had negotiated the country's racial politics to reach the top of her profession. But he was mainly riveted by the sheer magnitude of her talent. Seeing her appear onstage, Phillips said, "It was as if.she had switched the lights on."