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By Tara Cavanaugh
On Sept. 28, nearly 500 “HistoryMakers” descended upon schools in 77 cities and 35 states. Logan Elementary was one of those schools, and it was visited by Dr. George Shirley, the first African American to perform on the Metropolitan Opera stage.
The HistoryMakers is the country’s largest African American video oral history archive. Its annual “Back to School with the HistoryMakers” event brings black leaders in contact with young people to tell their stories and to encourage excellence.
Dr. Shirley’s personal history is a triumph of firsts. He was the first African American to sing with the U.S. Army chorus, and his fellow choir members encouraged him to pursue opera. In 1961, he became the first African American to be awarded a contract with the Metropolitan Opera, where he performed until 1973. Other operas and performances have taken him to cities across the globe, and he’s also won a Grammy. Dr. Shirley is now a retired professor from the University of Michigan, where he still coaches students in vocal performance at the School of Music, Theatre and Dance.
Dr. Shirley coached Logan students on the HistoryMakers theme of committing to their education. “You’re going to get opportunities to follow the path you’re supposed to follow,” he said. “If you do that, if you commit to it, if you work hard, then all sorts of wonderful things will happen.”
After the assembly, Dr. Shirley toured classrooms, taking students questions and giving an impromptu performance at a student’s request in JoWanda Gore’s class (see video below).
This is the third time Dr. Shirley has visited Logan for the “Back to School with the HistoryMakers” event. “This is truly ‘edu-tainment’ at its best,” said Logan Principal Terra Webster. “It’s just taking our learning beyond the walls, and involving the community.”