Born in Bradford, Pennsylvania in 1934, Marilyn Horne came from a musical family. At a very young age her mother and father recognized that she had a talent and an interest in singing. Her formal vocal training began when she was four years old.
Horne’s father moved his family to southern California when Horne was 11 years old. It was there that she began earnestly working on her vocal career. Before long, Marilyn was singing backup roles for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In 1954, she was chosen to dub the singing voice of Dorothy Dandridge in Oscar Hammerstein’s film adaptation of Carmen Jones, a musical based on Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen. The next year, Horne auditioned for the popular television variety show, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and won. She sang on the televised show every day for a week. Realizing then that opera was her calling she decided to dedicate herself to pursuing a career as an opera singer.
In the summer of 1956, Marilyn Horne sailed alone to Europe, the birthplace of opera. It was there that Marilyn would truly earn her stripes as an opera singer.
Marilyn’s big operatic break came in 1960 when she was invited by the San Francisco opera to sing the role of Marie in the opera Wozzeck. At the time there were only a few singers in the world who knew the part and Marilyn was one of them. When the original star of the production became sick and dropped out, the director summoned Marilyn from Europe for an audition. From that point forward she would become an important part of the American opera scene.
Whether appearing on the Carol Burnett Show or with Johnny Carson, Marilyn Horne brought her talents to a broad audience around the world. She has been a special guest on The Odd Couple and Sesame Street and was invited to sing at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993.
Marilyn Horne is one of the most lauded opera stars of all time. She was a leading lady for twenty-six years at the Metropolitan Opera and spent thirty-nine seasons at the San Francisco Opera. Among her many academic awards are numerous honorary doctorates from institutions such as the Julliard School, Johns Hopkins University, and others. She was nominated 15 times for a Grammy Award and is a four-time winner. In 1992, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George H. W. Bush. A few years later she became the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor. Among her many international honors, Marilyn Horne has been awarded the Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters from France’s Ministry of Culture and the Covent Garden Silver Medal for Outstanding Service.
After retiring from the opera stage, Marilyn Horne dedicated her life to educating young aspiring singers. Considered one of the greatest mezzo-sopranos of all time, her contributions to opera are indelible to the craft. Her archive is now a permanent part of the collections of the University of Pittsburgh. The Marilyn Horne Museum and Exhibit Center, located in the heart of her hometown, will serve as the centerpiece of the archive and as a resource for all those interested in her extraordinary life and career.