Anne Wiggins Brown was an African American soprano singer known for her role as “Bess” in the original production of “Porgy and Bess” by George Gershwin.

Brown is acknowledged as the inspiration that caused Gershwin to keep adding songs for her character in a process that turned “Porgy” into “Porgy and Bess.” She is also his inspiration for the song “Summertime.” Brown would perform the role of Bess over 600 times.

Brown served as a pioneer in black opera, becoming the first black vocalist admitted to New York’s Julliard school of music. It was there that Brown received the prestigious Margaret McGill prize for best female singer. She accomplished it all at age 16.

In 1998, Brown received the George Peabody Medal for her outstanding contribution to music from the Peabody Institute. It was the same Baltimore conservatory that did not accept her decades earlier because of her race.

Anne Wiggings Brown passed away at age 96 in 2009.

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