"Contralto Gwendolyn Brown’s powerful voice was inspiring and uplifting.”
M. L. Rantala, Lakefront Outlook, Chicago, IL
“To hear Gwendolyn Brown is to experience that primal thrill which comes in the presence of a singer whose fusion of soul with a vast, resonant instrument is total.”
Kitty Montgomery, Saugerties Post Star
Contralto Gwendolyn Brown’s operatic performances of traditional, 20th century, and even the avant guard has earned her consistent critical acclaim. In 2015, Ms. Brown's contralto was featured in the new experimental operatic work Afterwords: The AACM (AS) Opera, composed by George Lewis. Ms. Brown is fresh from her recent spritually "strong performance" hailed as "beneficent" (James McQuillen, The Oregonian) in Ethan Gans-Morse's opera The Canticle of the Black Madonna.
Recently, Ms. Brown’s “imposing” performance of Azalia in the William Grant-Still opera “Troubled Island” presented by the South Shore Opera Company earned her high critical acclaim as being “wholly at home in Still’s embrace of European, American and spiritual composition traditions” (Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun Times) She has the distinction of being the first African-American contralto to perform the complete role, and the South Shore Opera Company bears the distinction of doing the full operatic performance as originally intended with a Black cast since the opera’s premier in 1949.
In the Spring of 2012, Ms. Brown’s performances of the lead role Marie Laveau in the newly written opera “Crescent City” by Anne LeBaron for Los Angeles’ new opera company The Industry (Yuval Sharon, Artistic Director) hailed her “deep contralto” and performance as “a transfixing force of nature” (Mark Swed, LA Times). Brown played LaVeau, “with a rich, beautiful tone that galvanized attention throughout” (Out West Arts).
Critical acclaim of Ms. Brown’s signature role of Maria in “Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” has made her one of the most sought after and renowned artists to perform the role. Her recent performances with the Seattle Opera and Boston Symphony (both during the regular season and at Tanglewood) as well as performances with Washington National Opera, New Orleans Opera, and abroad in Germany, Amsterdam, and Burssels were given high praise. Ms. Brown "was a Maria with an ample voice to match her vivid personality" (Tim Smith, Opera News). Ms. Brown “performed the Earth Mother role of Maria with dramatic power and vocal depth.” (Willard Spiegelman, Opera News). "As Maria, the town busybody, Gwendolyn Brown steals the show – a no-nonsense mama whose flips from rich alto to deep Southern back talk have both stage and audience in thrall." (Rosemary Ponnekanti, Tacoma News Tribune).
Other recent operatic appearances include covering Queenie in Show Boat with both Lyric Opera of Chicago and Washington National Opera in 2013, where she went on for two performances. A burgeoning Wagnerian, Ms. Brown’s repertoire includes Fricka in Das Rheingold, which she performed at Des Moines Metro Opera, the First Norn and Waltraute in Götterdämmerung, and Erda in Das Rheingold and Siegfried. She has also performed the roles of Baba in Menotti’s The Medium, Kabanicha in Janáček’s Katya Kabanova and Filippyevna in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
An expert in American Negro spirituals, Ms. Brown performed as a featured soloist with the Chicago Symphony in its 2009 project Beyond the Score: Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and is featured in the accompanying documentary. Other orchestral appearances include Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Hale Smith’s Four Spirituals with the Chicago Sinfonietta, and 3 seasons at the Yachats Music Festival in Oregon. She has given numerous recitals, including those for the American Spirituals Negro Spiritual Scholarship Foundation in Florida, the Opera Memphis Negro Spiritual Scholarship Foundation, the Fisk University Arts Festival, and the Four Seasons Concert Series in San Francisco. She has also premiered new works of the Negro Spiritual and is working on commissioning other works
Ms. Brown has also received critical acclaim for her work in concert and symphonic works. "Her dusky voice inhabited the music so completely, we were spellbound" (The Oregonian). Ms. Brown’s "stirring, solo voice can rise above the crowd and harness audience attention” (Andrew Beck, Hartford Arts Examiner). As one critic states, her singing is simply "Stunning" (Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun Times).
Ms. Brown’s 2014-2015 season include the premier of a new work by Ethan Gans-Morse entitled The Canticle of the Black Madonna (Anima Mundi Production - Portland, Oregon); performances of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess for Syracuse Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago; Concert version of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Ms. Brown obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Music at Fisk University (Nashville, TN), pursued the Master’s degree in Vocal Performance at the University of Memphis (Memphis, TN) and finished it at the American Conservatory of Music (Hammond, IN). She is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Vocal Pedagogy. Her young artist development included the Des Moines Metro Opera Young Artist Program and The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center of Lyric Opera of Chicago. Her credits includes performed for many of the top opera companies and symphonies in the United States and overseas in Germany, Italy, Spain, Amsterdam and Brussels.
Ms. Brown is currently on the faculty of Fisk University in Nashville, TN where she serves as Artist in Residence and Voice Instructor. She is active with social, musical, and Christian spiritual activities as a member of Sigma Gama Rho Sorority, Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity and The R. Nathaniel Dett Music Club, NANM. She teaches voice and gives coachings as well as conduct Master Classes.
Single (for the time being) and no pets (at least not yet), Ms. Brown spends her time writing poetry and other works, is an ordained minister, and enjoys amateur photography with her beloved "Carmen," her Canon 7D.