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Harris, Hilda

She is a mezzo-soprano born in Warrenton, North Carolina, who appeared on Broadway in a string of musicals in the 1960s, like Ben Franklin in Paris, Golden Boy, and Mame.

In the late ‘60s, she embarked on a career as a session singer on albums such as Quincy Jones’ 1969 release, Walking in Space.  She appeared on a pair of Bob Dylan albums in 1970, New Morning and Self Portrait.  In 1972, she performed on Grover Washington, Jr.’s Inner City Blues and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie’s Soul is… Pretty Purdie.  She reunited with Bob Dylan on his self-titled Dylan in 1973, a year that saw her team up with Gregg Allman on Laid Back, and return to the stage for the New York revival of Four Saints in Three Acts.  Luther Allison employed her services for his 1975 album, Night Life.  In 1976, she appeared on Blondie’s and the Rice & Beans Orchestra’s self-titled albums, Maynard Ferguson’s Primal Scream, and Idris Muhammad’s House of the Rising Sun.  Hilda hooked up with LaSo for their self-titled album in 1977.

On 4th March 1977, she was featured on WGBH’s Basic Black, performing “Seguedilla” from George Bizet’s Carmen.

Other albums on which she appeared in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s include Charme’s Let it In, Grover Washington, Jr.’s Winelight, and The Story of Jimi Hendrix.  In March 1983, she gave a recital at Alice Tully Hall in New York, performing works of Nin, Purcell, Rossini, and Wolf.

If her recordings seem to have tapered off, it is no accident:  Hilda’s biggest claim to fame is her work on the opera stage, particularly with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, performing “pants” or “trousers” roles such as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, Hansel in Hansel and Gretel, and Sesto in Julius Caesar.

In 1991, she joined the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and Howard University, where she taught voice until 1994.

In the CD era, opportunities to hear Hilda in all of her digital glory abound on albums such as Donizetti:  Anna Bolena, William Grant Still:  Witness, Volume 2, and Q:  The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones.

She is a member of the faculty of Chautauqua Institution during the summer,  teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and the Manhattan School of Music and gives private lessons at her studio in New York.

Frank Sinatra recordings
That’s What God Looks Like To Me (Stan Irvin/Lan O’Kun)
Reprise RPS 49233 (XNY2101S) (US 45)

Theme from “New York, New York” (Fred Ebb/John Kander)
Reprise RPS49233 (XNY 2103 S) (US 45)

Here’s Al Kooper & Shuggie Otis singing “Lookin’ for a Home”on Kooper Session which Hilda sings backing on..