Carol L. Haywood – 35th Annual Black Excellence Awards Honoree


Carol L. Haywood

Carol L. Haywood found her vocation when her high school choral teacher informed her that she had a voice that could sing opera solos. Carol decided that she would dedicate her life to finding an outlet which would allow her to pursue her desire to become an opera soloist, despite the fact that she made this decision in an era when there were virtually no African American opera singers in Milwaukee.

Before her gift was recognized by her high school choral teacher, Carol gave her first performance at her church when she was five years old. Her mother, Clara, taught at a one-room schoolhouse in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. As a toddler, Carol came to school with her mother and could already read and write by age five.

“Most church music is written in the middle to low vocal range,” she said. “Opera gave me a chance to explore the high range,” she said.

Carol moved to Milwaukee to accept a music teaching position at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, a prestigious, independent community school that offers classical, jazz, rock, folk and blues musical concerts throughout the year.

In Milwaukee Carol achieved her dream of becoming a featured soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra for the Youth Concert Series, and with conductor Doc Severinsen the Milwaukee Symphony Pops series among others.

As an opera singer, recitalist, choral director, conductor, and teacher, Carol performed numerous roles on stage, such as “Euridice” in Orpheus, “Olympia” in Tales of Hoffman, “Adele” in Die Fledermaus, “Lucy” in The Telephone, “Papagena” in The Magic Flute, “Susanna” in The Marriage of Figaro, and “Yum Yum” in The Mikado for Skylight Opera and the Great Lakes Opera Company

After becoming the first African American to sing with the Skylight Theatre of Milwaukee, Carol continued to perform for more than 10 years with that company. Now Skylight owns and operates the Broadway Theatre Center. Carole said she can remember a time when performances were held in a converted garage which could seat a maximum of 250 people and the performers had to do double duty as stagehands.

“I never got a bad review,” she said. “I still have all my clippings. I can remember teaching all day and then getting on a bus to perform somewhere in Wisconsin and then coming back at 3 a.m., only to wake up at 6 a.m., to teach the next day.”

Carol was born the fourth of five children. After her church singing debut, she continued to perform at churches before discovering opera. At a very young age she fell in love with performing, and along with her mother, father Levi and youngest brother also named Levi formed a quartet that performed at churches. In high school she formed a quartet with three other female classmates and sang popular songs from that era.

The Skylight Music Theatre performances are in English. At the time there were only two operatic companies in Milwaukee. Carol performed with both of them. She said she only performed as a chorus member with Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera for one year, however.

“I found out they only used out-of-town soloists,” she said. “I left because I wanted to be a soloist.”

In 1960, Carol earned a degree in music education and voice from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. After finishing college, she accepted a teaching position with the Milwaukee Public Schoosl system (MPS). She taught at a number of different MPS schools, retiring in 1994 after 34 years as a music teacher.

“I love children,” Carol said. “Children like to perform and be recognized. People still recognize me and greet me when I go out. That is part of the pay that teachers get.”

Carol dedicated her life to teaching children, but opera is her passion. She was the first female band director for MPS. She also became the first African American to sing at the Skylight Music Theatre. She has been a featured soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra for the Youth Concert Series, and with conductor Doc Severinsen and the Milwaukee Symphony Pops series.

Despite her love for opera, Carol has remained passionately involved with church music. She previously was choir director at Mt. Zion Baptist Church for 15 years and has been the choir director at Calvary Baptist Church for the past 15 years. Carol has contributed to her church congregation in numerous other ways as well. Four years ago, she became one of the first female deacons at Calvary Church under the pastorship of Dr. John R. Walton, Jr.

“Deacons and pastors are the only ordained church personnel,” Carol said. “I am assigned 50 members and must make physical or telephone contact with each one at least once every 60 days. We provide spiritual assistance.”

Carol holds an advanced music teaching license which has not had any new members certified in a number of years. The “500 License” qualifies her to teach any type of music class: band, choir, orchestra and dance. She is proficient on the piano and clarinet, but can play the basic harmony and melodies on every single orchestral instrument.

Her husband, Earl, Sr., died in 2009. Carol has one adult son, Cory.