Kathleen Battle (born August 13, 1948), is an African American operatic soprano known for her agile and light voice and her silvery, pure tone. Battle initially became known for her work within the concert repertoire through performances with major orchestras during the early and mid 1970s. She made her opera debut in 1975. Battle expanded her repertoire into light lyric soprano and lyric coloratura soprano roles during the 1980s and early 1990s. Although she no longer appears in operas, Battle remains active in concert and recital performances.
Battle was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, USA, the youngest of seven children. Her father was a steelworker, and her mother was an active participant in the gospel music of the family's African Methodist Episcopal church. Battle attended Portsmouth High School where her music teacher and mentor was Charles P. (Phil) Varney. In a Time Magazine interview with music critic Michael Walsh, he recalled first hearing the eight-year old Battle sing, describing her as "this tiny little thing singing so beautifully." "I went to her later", Varney recalled, "and told her God had blessed her, and she must always sing." In that same interview, Walsh described Battle as "the best lyric coloratura in the world".
Battle was a good student and was awarded a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music where she studied voice with Franklin Bens and also worked with Italo Tajo. She majored in music education rather than performance in undergraduate school and went on to get a master's degree in Music Education as well. In 1971 Battle embarked on a teaching career in Cincinnati, taking a position at a Cincinnati inner-city public school. While teaching 5th and 6th grade music, she continued to study voice privately.