Timeline Capsule
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George Shirley, Tenor Opera Singer
Detroit Schools Music Teacher
1st African American Lead: U.S. Army Chorus Metropolitan Opera

George Shirley began music lessons at the age of 6 and was vocalist at area churches in Detroit, Michigan.  He was also a baritone-horn player in a local band.  He received a bachelor degree from Wayne State University, in 1955.  He then spent a year in Wayne State’s graduate program, and taught school.

In 1956 Shirley was drafted into the military, after which he married his high school sweetheart, Gladys Lee Ishop.   Also while in the military, he auditioned for the U.S. Army Chorus, and became the first black member of the famed touring and performing ensemble.  He spent three years with Army Chorus, until his discharge.  

In 1960, at 26, he won a National Arts Club scholarship competition, and the following April, 1961, he became the first Black tenor to win the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions scholarship competition, for a $2,000 scholarship.  Shirley is also the first Black tenor and the second Black male to sing leading roles for the Metropolitan Opera.   He had a long professional career with the Metropolitan Opera, singing with them for 11 seasons.  
Throughout his career, he performed in the world’s most prestigious opera houses and has He spent a year in Wayne State’s graduate program, and taught schoolbeen accompanied by the most distinguishes orchestras in the world

In 1968, he received a Grammy Award for singing the role of “Ferrando” in the RCA recording of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.

Shirley currently serves as Director of the Vocal Arts Division and the University of Michigan.