NAPAC acquires portrait of late opera singer

Published 5:38 pm Wednesday, December 29, 2021

NATCHEZ — A portrait of the late opera singer Daisy C. Newman is on display at the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture. The image will be part of the upcoming “Black Butterfly” exhibit, which is set to open in February 2022.

“This artifact is a significant contribution to our collection,” said Bobby Dennis, executive director of the museum. “I knew Ms. Newman. She was a native of Natchez. Her talent and accolades went far beyond Mississippi. Her acclaim was international.”

In addition to having worked with Leonard Bernstein and Robert Shaw, among other greats, Newman sang on five continents. Dennis said her life story holds a special place in Natchez’s history.

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Newman was born on Jan. 5, 1947, in Natchez. She was the daughter of David Newman Sr. and Hattie Bivens. The young singer graduated from Sadie V. Thompson High School in 1965 and went on to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Cleveland State University. She also studied at Oberlin Music Conservatory and Oglebay Opera Institute.

Newman performed as a soprano soloist. One of her most popular performances was as Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly. She also worked as a teacher of music.

Newman died on Feb. 10, 2021, at the age of 74.

“The story of Ms. Newman’s life not only gives us a glimpse of her, but a look at the character of the citizens of Natchez,” Dennis said. “Education, hard work, and perseverance help us defeat all odds and achieve those things that make a difference in our community and country.”

The museum’s acquirement of Newman’s portrait was made possible by her sister, Dorothy Hills, according to Dennis. “Mrs. Hills wanted us to have it,” he said, adding it was on display at Newman’s memorial service, which was held on Aug. 15, 2021, at the Natchez Convention Center.

On Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, the portrait arrived at the museum. It was presented by Philip West, former mayor of Natchez; Mary White, co-founder of Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture; and Jimmy Ware, president of Natchez Business and Civic League.

“The museum is very grateful to Mrs. Dorothy Hills for entrusting us to let the world see this story through the eyes of those who have known her sister, Daisy Newman,” Dennis said.

Visitors from the American Duchess happened to be present during the presentation. “They became very excited as they felt elated to be addressed by Mr. West, the first black mayor of Natchez since reconstruction,” Dennis said. “It truly was a visit with history.”

Newman has been described as “an exceptional woman who was dedicated to uplifting the lives of those she encountered,” according to her obituary published by Berkeleyside, April 2021.