William Franklin (singer)

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William Franklin
William franklin brochure portrait.PNG
Background information
Born1906 (1906)
Shaw, Tennessee, U.S.
OriginChicago, Illinois, U.S.
Occupation(s)Opera singer
Associated acts

William Franklin (born 1906, date of death unknown) was a baritone opera singer[1] who was considered to be a pioneering African American in the Chicago music scene.[citation needed] He has been described as the best baritone of his day, with some performances that "will long be remembered for [their] intensity of musical feeling."[2] He was known for his leading roles in a revival of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in 1944, and in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado.[3]


Franklin was born in a farm near Shaw, Tennessee,[4] and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He went to the Wendell Phillips High School, where he was trained by Mildred Bryant-Jones, and played in various bands. He took up trombone and singing in jazz groups after completing high school. From 1925 to 1935, Franklin played with some of the great jazz names of the time, such as Clarence Jones, Dave Peyton, Stanley "Fess" Williams and Earl "Fatha" Hines.

After a traffic accident, he focused on singing and enrolled at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. He made his operatic debut as Amonastro in a 1937 production of Verdi's Aida at the Chicago Civic Opera, with La Julia Rhea. This role paved the way for many other opera and musical appearances. He often played with Mary Caldwell Dawson's National Negro Opera Company, and in the operetta performances of Gilbert and Sullivan works.[5]


  1. ^ Virgil Thomson (16 October 2014). Virgil Thomson: Music Chronicles 1940-1954 (LOA #258). Library of America. p. 141. ISBN 978-1-59853-364-4.
  2. ^ Smith, Eric Ledell (Winter 1995). "Pittsburgh's Black Opera Impressario: Mary Cardwell Dawson". Pennsylvania Heritage.
  3. ^ Tracy, Steven C. (November 1, 2011). Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance. University of Illinois Press. p. 443. ISBN 978-0-252-09342-5.
  4. ^ "From Farm Boy to Grand Opera... The Story of William Franklin". The Redpath Bureau – via The University of Iowa Libraries.
  5. ^ Darryl Glenn Nettles (20 February 2003). African American Concert Singers Before 1950. McFarland. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-7864-1467-3.

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