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Portrait of Camilla Williams unveiled at IMU



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Marietta Simpson rudy professor of voice for the Jacobs School of Music reacts to the unveiling of the new portrait of world-renowned opera singer Camilla Williams Feb. 5 in the Indiana Memorial Union East Lounge. Williams became the first African American faculty member in the voice department at IU in 1977, and she retired in 1997. Raegan Walsh

A portrait of Camilla Williams was revealed at 3 p.m. on Wednesday in the East Lounge of the Indiana Memorial Union. Williams was an IU voice professor and an opera singer.

Professional singer Camilla Williams joined the New York City Opera in 1946 where she was the first AfricanAmerican to perform as the lead role in “Madama Butterfly." In 1954, she was at the Vienna State Opera to perform her signature role as Cio-Cio-San. She traveled through Asia, Europe and Africa.

She joined IU’s faculty in 1977 as the university's first African American voice professor. She retired in 1997 and was later awarded the IU President’s Medal for Excellence, the highest honor an IU president can bestow. She continued living in Bloomington until she died in 2012 at 92 years old.

Gwyn Richards, the David Henry Jacobs Bicentennial dean, and Marietta Simpson, voice professor of the Jacobs School of Music, unveiled the portrait of Williams. In the painting, she is wearing a blue dress and a grand piano sits in the background.

The portrait will be hung in the IMU near the East Lounge alongside other successful women at IU, such as Elinor Ostrom.  Ostrom won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Gerard Erley, the artist who painted the portrait, said he researched Williams thoroughly. He said he wanted to show her personality.

Erley said he wanted to capture her as she was during her time here at IU.

Williams took people away with her extraordinary talent and used her voice to inspire the world, Provost Lauren Robel said. 

“The voice of Camilla Williams was not only powerful,” Robel said at the dedication. “It was by measures complex, touching, charming, sensitive."

Charles Webb, dean emeritus of the Jacobs School of Music, said he wanted to emphasize the hard work Williams put in her work and the difficulties she faced as a black woman.

“As we think about the contribution that Camilla Williams made to music throughout the world, we must never forget the kinds of problems that she faced that many of us would not have to face,” Webb said.

“Imagine 30 years later, having an opportunity to meet her is like a sports fan meeting Michael Jordan,” Simpson said.

IU’s First Lady Laurie Burns McRobbie said she met Williams in 2008.

“This portrait is in part the outcome of several years of work throughout IU and IU's hidden figures,” Laurie McRobbie said.

Janice Wiggins, a friend of Williams, said the portrait’s installation is important to IU because it will raise awareness for Williams’ contributions.  

“It is absolutely fabulous that she is still recognized, that the university is recognizing her,” Wiggins said.

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