Could you please introduce yourself and why you chose opera and singing as a career?
Hi! I’m Tiffany Townsend and I’m a soprano. It’s funny because opera kind of chose me. I actually started off as a pianist. In college, I was practicing for a church job that I had and was singing gospel and a voice teacher heard me and encouraged me to start taking voice lessons. Then I fell in love with it and decided to pursue it as a career.
Tiffany Townsend as Princess Ninette in The Love of Three Oranges at Opera Philadelphia, with Jonathan Johnson as the Prince. (Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer)
What Black musical artist would you say influenced you or gained your admiration as a child?
As a child, I had great admiration for Ray Charles, Nina Simone, the Clark Sisters, the Temptations, Destiny’s Child (and of course Beyoncé) as well as musicians in my family and community.
Are they still your influence, or have you added on to the list a bit, and if so who’s on there?
Yes. Many of them really influenced my venture into music as a pianist but I’ve expanded this list since I’ve become a singer. James Martin (who was my first voice teacher), Leontyne Price, Leona Mitchell and many of the singers in the opera industry; especially the ones around my age.
Do you think you would’ve pursued your dreams as a singer had you not seen someone that looked like you doing it?
Probably not. When I was first encouraged I really wasn’t serious because I thought that I had no shot at being successful. Then I saw a video of Leontyne Price’s farewell performance as Aïda. I was so inspired and that made me think I could do this too. She’s a wonderful soprano who looks like me and is also from Mississippi.
Which brings me to the next question, do you think Black representation in opera has grown since you first started?
Absolutely. I went from being one of the only ones in the room to having multiple colleagues in the room. There’s still work to be done but there has been notable progress.
When you were first starting off on your operatic journey, who were some of the Black opera singers you looked up to and why?
Leontyne Price and Shirley Verrett were my favorite singers when I first started. I was awestruck by their talent but they were my favorites mainly because they had sung all the roles that were fascinating to me.
Can you share how you think the influence of Black music has been impactful?
I think there are so many great Black artists who’ve influenced generation upon generation. It’s been super impactful because a lot of these artists have become greats while overcoming great adversity.
What are your top five songs of all time by Black Musicians?
1. "Boogie Wonderland" by Earth, Wind & Fire
2. "Introvert" by Little S
3. "Well Done" by Tye Tribett & G.A.
4. "All the Stars" by Kendrick Lamar and SZA
5. "Gone" by Lianne la Haas