Skip to main content

Annabelle Bernard papers

Identifier: 622

Scope and Contents

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services award MH-245560-OMS-20.

Content Description

Annabelle Bernard’s papers reflect more than forty years of her extensive career as an internationally renowned opera singer. Her papers consist of news clippings; correspondence; programs in English, German and Italian; photographs; and critical reviews documenting Bernard’s career. Also included are two scrapbooks dating 1955-1978 and 1978.

Correspondence in Bernard’s papers document her extensive career through personal and professional letters and tell us she performed to audiences that included Willy Brandt, chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany); Kenneth Rush, the U.S. ambassador to West Germany; and Pope Paul VI in Vatican City. The Deutsche Oper Berlin took her around the world and, on occasion, back to the United States. Among the correspondence are two congratulatory letters received from Edith Stern and Bernard’s mentor Sr. Mary Elise in 1976 following Bernard’s appearance in Andrea Chénier, her first performance in New Orleans in almost twenty years.

Of interest are programs (in English, German and Italian), photographs, as well as news clippings about Bernard’s performances and about Xavier University. Programs document Bernard’s performances at Xavier University’s 1956 Annual Student Concert and her graduation commencement, where she received a bachelor of science degree in music education. Other programs cover a variety of global performance venues including the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, in which Bernard was a candidate for her master’s degree in 1958; and a program from her performance at the New Orleans Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra (1976). Bernard left Europe several times to sing with the Symphony Orchestra in Cleveland, Ohio, and her papers contain programs representing her performances there in 1978, 1980 and 1981.

Bernard’s papers contain a small collection of photographs of her performances and attendance at social events, as well as individual portraits and group collaborators. Of note are the Annabelle Bernard Exhibition (2001) photographs that represent an exhibit celebrating her illustrious career. Bernard was among three people celebrated at the 15th Annual Amistad Awards Gala at Le Meridan Hotel in New Orleans. All images are black and white and color prints, dating from the 1960s to 2001.

The collection concludes with a small number of oversize materials, including posters, flyers and one program. The bulk of the oversize materials are posters announcing Bernard’s performances and are written in German. Posters within the papers advertise her performances in Germany in 1960 and 1961. Other materials are an exhibition panel with a black and white image of Bernard and an exhibition panel of her biography from the 15th Annual Amistad Awards Gala in 2001.


  • Other: 1956-2001, undated


Conditions Governing Access

The Annabelle Bernard papers are open and available for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.

Biographical / Historical

Annabelle Bernard (1934-2005) was a New Orleans-born opera singer who spent four decades with the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Bernard’s love of music began at an early age; she began performing publicly at New Orleans’ Fisk Elementary School and at the Fourth Baptist Church. While attending McDonogh No. 35, the city’s first high school for American Americans, she began receiving vocal training from Edwin Hogan (the uncle of well-known composer Moses Hogan). Hogan, a graduate of Xavier University, encouraged Bernard to audition before Sister Mary Elise Sisson, chair of Xavier’s music department. Bernard secured a scholarship to study music education with a concentration in voice under Sr. Elise from 1952 to 1956. During her time at Xavier, Bernard sang in various operas and concerts on campus.

While performing in Xavier University productions, Annabelle Bernard attracted the attention of Edith Rosenwald Stern, daughter of wealthy businessman Julius Rosenwald. After graduating from Xavier, with support from Stern, Bernard continued her studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. While there, she was enabled to study abroad at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg and the Stuttgart (Germany) Conservatory of Music. Her remarkable talent gained further attention when she won the top prize in the International Radio Competition in Munich in 1960.

In 1961, she made her debut under Maestro Karl Bohm in the role of Verdi’s Aida at the Deutsche Oper Berlin – the Berlin Opera. For nearly forty years, she performed with the Deutsche Oper Berlin in countless operas. One critic said in 1965, “her tiny appearance stands in stark contrast to her near impossible ability to develop and impassion resounding vocal strength.” Her impressive talents were called upon as a U.S. cultural representative in the politically and ideologically divided Germany. The Deutsche Oper Berlin took her around the world and, on occasion, back to the United States.

Bernard was highlighted in the February 1, 1962 issue of Jet magazine as the “Newest Negro Opera Star” for the critical acclaim she received from her debut. At the Berlin Opera, Bernard became a permanent member and leading soprano for forty years, and sang the title parts for many operas, including Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Verdi’s Il trovatore, Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. In 1970, Bernard received the West German honorific title of excellence, Kammersängerin (chamber singer).

The color barrier at the Metropolitan Opera in New York was not broken until 1955 when Marian Anderson sang in Un ballo in maschera there. By the mid-1960s in New Orleans, Black singers were beginning to be part of the chorus and were singing a few supporting roles. However, no Black vocalist would sing a major role at the New Orleans Opera until 1976 when Bernard starred in a local production of Giordano’s Andrea Chénier in November of that year. Following her appearance in New Orleans, Bernard performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and Carnegie Hall in New York.

After performing in Germany for forty years, Bernard retired from the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1998 and returned to New Orleans to teach at Xavier, her alma mater.

Annabelle Bernard passed away on January 29, 2005.


15.98 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, Annabelle Bernard

Physical Description

Good condition

Annabelle Bernard papers
Jasmaine Talley, Felicia D. Render, and Phillip Cunningham
April 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Amistad Research Center Repository

6823 Saint Charles Avenue
Tilton Hall, Tulane University
New Orleans LA 70118 US
(504) 862-3222