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Camilla Williams papers, 1947-2010, bulk 1978-1996

A Guide to her Papers at the Indiana University Archives

Finding aid prepared by Cynthia L. Pemberton

Summary Information

Indiana University Office of University Archives and Records Management
1320 East Tenth Street
Herman B Wells Library E460
Bloomington, IN 47405-7000
Phone: 812-855-1127

Williams, Camilla, 1919-2012.

Camilla Williams papers, 1947-2010, bulk 1978-1996

Collection No.

1.4 cubic feet (2 boxes)

Materials are in English.

Camilla Williams was an internationally acclaimed soprano opera vocalist who broke racial bias barriers in society as well as professionally. Miss Williams came to Indiana University in 1977 as a professor of voice at the Jacobs School of Music. The collection contains performance posters, correspondence, clippings about her career and former student’s accomplishments, photographs, awards, plaques, and scrapbooks.

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research. Advance notice required for access.

Biographical Note/Administrative History

Camilla Williams was born on October 18, 1919 in Danville Virginia. She earned a Bachelor's of Science degree in music education from Virginia State University and in 1943 she won the first Marian Anderson Award which was established by the African-American opera singer to support young singers. In 1946 she was the first African American to get a contract with the New York City Opera singing the lead role of Madame Butterfly . She married Charles T. Beaver (a civil rights lawyer who worked with Malcolm X) in 1950. Other notable points in her career included being a guest of President Eisenhower in 1960 at the White House where she performed for the crown prince of Japan during his state visit, and on August 28, 1963 as part of the Civil Right March on Washington singing the Star Spangled Banner at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. for 200,000 people before Martin Luther King's famed "I have a dream" speech.

Camilla Williams' teaching career began with a faculty position at Brooklyn College as a professor of voice from 1970 to 1973 and Queens College from 1974 to 1977. She came to Indiana University in 1977 and became the first African-American professor of voice at the Jacobs School of Music. In 1984 she was also the first African-American to teach at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China.

She received numerous honors and awards over the years including: the Art, Culture and Civic Guild Award for her contribution to music in 1962, the Harlem Opera and World Fellowship Society Award in 1963, and in 1971 her hometown of Danville, Virginia designated a park in her name. Furthermore, in 1995 she was the inaugural recipient of the National Opera Association's "Lift Every Voice" Legacy Award and the following year Harvard University named her as an Outstanding African American Singer and Pioneer. Indiana University awarded her with the President's Medal for Excellence in 2009. She retired officially from university duties in 1997, but continued to teach privately until her death in January 2012.


The collection is organized into three series: Biographical, Clippings and scrapbooks, and Professional files.

Scope and Content Note

The Camilla Williams papers span the years 1947-2010. The collection is organized into three series: Biographical, Clippings and scrapbooks, and Professional files.

The Biographical series (1990-2010) includes plaques of appreciation and the Indiana University President's Medal of Excellence and certificate. It also includes an undated handwritten draft excerpt of what appears to be her autobiography.

The Clippings and scrapbook (1947-1997) series is arranged chronologically by year. The clippings files include personal interviews, reviews of operas performed at Indiana University and of the performances of former students. The scrapbooks include photographs of performances and other social functions Camilla attended. There are letters, clippings, and other mementos such as programs and ticket stubs from the New York Metropolitan Opera. Also included is an undated scrapbook she compiled covering the career of her close colleague from Brooklyn, John Motley.

Arranged alphabetically by folder heading, the Professional files series (1970-1997) includes programs of opera performances at Indiana University as well as posters featuring Williams' performance in IU's Cantatas. Correspondence includes personal letters and cards from friends, students and colleagues. Teaching materials include student voice rehearsal schedules as well as signs she made and posted for procedures in the studios. Undated audio recordings include one compact disk recording of a recital by Williams with her accompanist Boris Bazala, as well as a cassette tape recording labeled Tribute to Marian Anderson.

Separated Material

Correspondence and clippings in scrapbooks were pulled due to preservation issues. Photocopies have been placed in the folders.

Photographs of performances and personal photographs were pulled and transferred to the IU Archives Photographs Collection.

Related Material

Related photographs may be available in the University Archives Photographs Database .

Administrative Information

Acquisition Information
Usage Restrictions
Copyright interests for this collection have been transferred to the Trustees of Indiana University. For more information, contact the Indiana University Archivist.
Preferred Citation
[Item], Camilla Williams papers, Collection C497, Office of University Archives and Records Management, Indiana University, Bloomington.
Transferred from the IU Music Library 2012.
Items that did not pertain to the creator such as brochures, airline boarding passes, and duplicate copies of articles were removed from the collection. Confidential student ID numbers were removed and shredded.
Processing Information
Processed by Cynthia L. Pemberton.

Completed in June 2013.

Folder List

Series: Biographical, 1990-2010,  undated

Box 1 Appreciation Plaque, 1977,  Art Cultural and Civic Guild, Inc. plaque, 1962

(See box Oversized 2)

Awards, 1990-2010

Birthday Plaque, 1980

(See Oversized Box 2)

Cream and Crimson Button, undated

(See Oversized Box 2)

IU President's Medal, Certificate and Clippings, 2009

(See Oversized Box 2)

Retirement Certificate, 1990

Sagamore of the Wabash Award, 2010

Unidentified Possible Autobiography draft, undated

The Women of Bloomington: Portraits by Wayne Manns Exhibit, 2007

Series: Clippings and scrapbooks, 1947-1997,  undated 




























Miscellaneous, undated 








John Motley, undated 

Series: Professional files 1970-1997,  undated

Correspondence, 1977-1995 

Media, undated 

Posters, 1970-1977 

(See Oversized Box 2)


undated -1983


Teaching, undated