A conversation with U-M's George Shirley, winner of the National Medal of Arts

Oct 7, 2015

George Shirley, Emeritus Professor at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

George Shirley, emeritus professor at the University of Michigan School of Music, Dance and Theatre, recently received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama.

Shirley graduated from Wayne State University with a bachelor's degree in music. He went on to break new ground for diversity in the performing arts as an operatic tenor and a music educator.

The litany of "firsts" that he has achieved is remarkable:

  • First African-American to sing in the U.S. Army Chorus
  • First African-American tenor to perform a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera
  • First African-American hired to teach music at Detroit high schools

George Shirley as Don Ottavio in Mozart's Don Giovanni, Metropolitan Opera.
Credit Courtesy George Shirley

In this interview with Stateside, Shirley talks about his life, classical music, and the importance of music education in schools.

Professor Shirley was one of 11 winners of the National Medal of Arts, along with the University Musical Society.