Beverly Sills

Soprano Beverly Sills is America`s best-known opera singer, based on her performances during the 1960s and the 1970s. She also is known for her involvement in the March of Dimes, along with myriad other charities and organizations.

Beverly Sills

An early talent

Beverly Sills was born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn, New York, on May 25, 1929, to Jewish-Russian emigrants. As a child, she spoke Russian, Romanian, and English. Beverly won the “Miss Beautiful Baby" contest when she was three years old. Her mother enrolled her in voice, dance, and elocution lessons.

In the 1930s, Beverly performed on radio, and in 1936 she appeared in the short film, “Uncle Sol Solves It." She was encouraged by her vocal coach, Estelle Leibling, to audition for the radio show, “Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour." She was taken on as a regular and was heard across America on Sundays.

Career and marriage

Sills made her stage debut with Gilbert and Sullivan in 1945, and sang operetta for several years. In 1947 she made her operatic stage debut in Bizet’s “Carmen," with the Philadephia Civic Opera. She appeared with the San Francisco Opera in 1953, as Helen of Troy in Boito’s “Mefistofele." Then in 1955 she appeared in the New York City Opera in Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus." Sills` reputation was established in her title role in the New York premiere of Douglas Stuart Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe."

Sills married Peter Greenough in 1956. He was the publisher of the Cleveland, Ohio, newspaper, “Plain Dealer." They had two children; both of them were afflicted with disabilities. Their son, Peter, was diagnosed with mental retardation, and daughter, Muffy, exhibited a severe hearing loss.

Beverly Sills resumed her career in January 1964, when she returned to the Opera Company of Boston and sang the “Queen of the Night" in Mozart`s “The Magic Flute." Sills became an international opera star in 1966 when she performed the masterpiece, “Giulio Cesare," as Cleopatra at the New York City Opera.

Retirement with a green light

Sills continued to perform in numerous operas until her retirement in 1980. She then served as general director of the New York City Opera until 1991, and was chairman of the Lincoln Center from 1994 to 2000. She has also devoted herself to various art causes and such charities as the March of Dimes, in which she had helped to raise more than $80 million. In 2002, Sills returned to the work force to serve as chairman of the Metropolian Opera until January 2005. Sills disclosed that she had to place her husband in a nursing home; she had been caring for him at home for more than eight years.

Sills received a Kennedy Center honor in 1985, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998, and received a National Medal of Honor for Art in 1990. During her illustrious career, she recorded 18 full-length operas, and starred in eight opera productions for PBS television. She also won an Emmy Award for her “Profile in Music." In 1976 Sills published a memoir, Bubbles: A Self-Portrait, and in 1987, she wrote Beverly: An Autobiography. Beverly also held honorary degrees from 14 leading academic institutions.

Sills died in New York City on July 2, 2007.


See also Marian Anderson and Kathleen Battle . For other famous women, see Important and Famous Women in America .

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