Singer Roland Hayes was born in Curryville, Ga., in 1887, and was critically acclaimed for his operatic renditions of black folk and spiritual songs and his interpretations of German and French lyrics.
When Hayes was 11 years old, his father died and he and his brother were forced to quit school to support their family. The family moved to Chattanooga, where Hayes began working at an iron foundry. Five years later, Hayes had the opportunity to go back to school, where he became serious about singing.
Hayes hired a tutor and began making appearances with the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1911. At that same time, he started taking singing lessons with W. Arthur Calhoun, an Oberlin University music student who introduced Hayes to the world of classical music. At this point, there was no turning back – Hayes was determined to become a successful singer.
In 1918, Hayes rented the Boston Symphony Hall to perform a concert at a time when no professional managers wanted to sponsor an African-American performer.
That same year Hayes began a U.S. tour, and in 1920, he set sail for London. After a year of small performances, Hayes performed at the Wigmore Hall, and two days later performed for King George V and Queen Mary while sick with pneumonia.
After his return to the United States in 1922, Hayes became the first African-American singer to appear at Carnegie Hall in New York City. By 1924, Hayes was performing more than 80 concerts a year, many with major orchestras from across the country.
In 1925, Hayes performed for Queen Mother Maria Christina of Spain and was awarded the Spingarn Medal, given annually by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the most outstanding achievement among African-Americans.
In addition to his remarkable singing career, Hayes taught voice at Boston University beginning in 1950. In 1962, on his 75th birthday, Hayes gave his final concert at Carnegie Hall. In 1977, at the age of 89, Hayes died in Boston, Mass.
Hayes was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1991. In 1995, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources erected an official historic marker in Hayes’ honor in Calhoun. In 2000, the Roland Hayes Museum opened in Calhoun’s Harris Arts Center, where concerts are held annually in his honor.