One of the most illustrious voices of the 20th century, George Shirley was a civil rights pioneer many times over. Upon graduating from Wayne State University's College of Education in 1956, Shirley was the first African American to be appointed to a high school music teaching position in Detroit Public Schools. He also was the first African American member of the U.S. Army Soldiers’ Chorus and the first African American tenor to perform a leading role with New York’s renowned Metropolitan Opera.
Shirley was drafted by the Army a year after leaving WSU, when he was teaching music at Miller High School in Detroit. During basic training, he picked up where he had left off with the Wayne State marching band and played euphonium in an Army band. Shortly after that, he earned a spot on the newly formed Soldiers’ Chorus alongside former opera tenor Therny Georgi, who recognized his talent and invited Shirley to study with him.
After being discharged from the Army in 1959, Shirley made his professional debut in New York. He went on to perform more than 80 roles in the world’s greatest opera houses, and earned a Grammy in 1968 for his recording of Ferrando in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.
About Wayne State University:
Wayne State University (WSU) is a public research university located in Detroit, Michigan. Founded in 1868, WSU consists of 13 schools and colleges offering nearly 350 programs to more than 27,000 graduate and undergraduate students. Wayne State University is Michigan's third-largest university, one of the 100 largest universities in the United States, and ranked in the top 50 American public universities for research expenditures. The WSU main campus encompasses 203 acres linking more than 100 education and research buildings in the heart of Detroit.
Wayne State University, in alliance with Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, is part of Michigan’s University Research Corridor, responsible for $2.15 billion in research and development spending in fiscal year 2015. The URC is one of the nation’s top research clusters and the engine for innovation in Michigan and the Great Lakes region, increasing economic prosperity and connecting Michigan to the world.
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