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Born in 1920
Inducted in 1999
William Warfield was born in 1920, in West Helena, Arkansas. In high school, Warfield won the national Music Educators League Competition during his senior year, which awarded him a scholarship to the American music school of his choice. He chose the Eastman School of Music where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and his master’s degree. His nightclub act in Toronto led to his debut recital in Town Hall. In the following years, Warfield’s career expanded with countless concerts, recitals, solo performances with leading symphony orchestras, operas, U. S. State Department tours of other countries, recording, television and his featured role in the MGM movie of the great Hammerstein and Kern musical, Show Boat.
Beginning in the 1950s Warfield travelled the world as both official and unofficial musical ambassador for the United States. The State Department sent him six times on good will visits to Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Warfield’s two most famous musical theater roles, Joe in Show Boat and Porgy in Porgy and Bess (which he earned a Grammy for), took him around the world in many tours.
His many awards include honorary doctorates from the University of Arkansas and Lafayette College; the Handel Medallion, New York City’s highest cultural award; an alumnus citation from the Eastman School of Music; Phi Mu Alpha’s Man of the Year award; and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Amistad Foundation. He served as president of the National Association of Negro Musicians, an organization that provides scholarship support for young musicians. He was professor of voice and vocal repertoire in the University of Illinois music department from 1974 to 1990, and in 1994 accepted an appointment at Northwestern University, in Evanston. He was always in frequent demand for master classes and guest lectures in this country and abroad.