Bass-baritone William Warfield dead

Aug. 27, 2002 at 10:57 AM
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CHICAGO, Aug. 27 (UPI) -- Film, musical theater star and opera singer William Warfield, whose rendition of "Ol' Man River" defined the song in bravura performances of the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II musical "Show Boat," died Sunday of complications after falling in his South Side home.

He was 82.

Warfield's big bass-baritone voice also won wide acclaim in the 1951 MGM movie version of "Show Boat." He portrayed Porgy opposite his then-wife, soprano Leontyne Price, in George Gershwin's American musical classic "Porgy and Bess." The couple divorced in 1972 but remained friends.

Warfield sang his final performance of "Ol Man River" in July in Cambridge, Mass.

Chicago author Studs Terkel, a longtime friend, told the Sun-Times Warfield was "one of the most loving artists of our time."

Warfield, who taught voice at Northwestern University, the University of Illinois and Northern Illinois University, coached young students and professionals and toured widely for more than 50 years singing a repertoire of Bach, Handel, Mendelsson, Copeland and others.

In 2001, the Chicago Historical Society awarded Warfield the Theodore Thomas Award for Performing Arts.

Warfield was an original cast member of the Broadway opera "Regina" in 1949 and made a triumphant Town Hall concert debut in New York City in 1950 at a time when an opera or classical music career was closed for black artists.

Born the son of a Baptist minister in Arkansas in 1920, Warfield won a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music but his studies were interrupted by service in World War II.

He was a board member of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, the Boy's Choir of Harlem and past-president of the National Association of Negro Musicians.

Warfield suffered a broken neck in a fall outside his home in late July and was hospitalized at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

A funeral is planned at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Rochester, N.Y., with a private burial. A public memorial service will be held at Northwestern this fall.

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