atlanta municipal auditorium

Black History Spotlight: Mattiwilda Dobbs

Mattiwilda Dobbs was a coloratura soprano and one of the first African-American singers to have a major international career in opera. The daughter of an early civil rights activist, Mattiwilda played an instrumental role in breaking color barriers in opera.

She was the first black singer to perform at La Scala in Italy, the first black woman to receive a long-term performance contract at the Metropolitan Opera, and the first black singer to play a lead role at the San Francisco Opera. 

Despite her enormous talent, Mattiwilda did not perform in her hometown of Atlanta until 1962 – nearly a decade after her operatic debut as Elvira in Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri at La Scala in 1953 – because she refused to perform for segregated audiences. When the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium was de-segregated in 1961, she was the first person to sing to an integrated audience in the city.

Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public Library