Holmes, who lived from 1932-2007, was one of the most prominent African-American operatic baritones.
He achieved some acclaim in the U.S. during the early 1960s when he
appeared on the Charlie Mack Show and then on the Mike Douglas Show in
Holmes was one of the trailblazing African-American classical
performers, having performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera and many
other opera houses around the world. In his early years, Holmes
attended Washington Technical High School, Harris Stowe College and
Saint Louis University. Later, he served in the Navy aboard the U.S.S.
Conflict. During his military service, Holmes sang with the Navy Blue
Jackets and had the opportunity to perform at the White House before
President Lyndon B. Johnson and the First Lady.
Holmes was first discovered by Dorothy Zeigler, former artistic
director for the St. Louis Opera Guild. Zeigler introduced Holmes to the
Russian born Boris Goldovsky, a well-known classical pianist and vocal
trainer who ran a prestigious opera workshop in Wheeling, W. Va.
After the clinic, Holmes was offered a scholarship and attended the
University of Indiana in Bloomington for classical voice training.
Afterward, he began performing with the Metropolitan Opera National
In 1966, after a year on tour with the Metropolitan Opera National
Company, Holmes made his debut in the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Later, Holmes made history as the first African American man to sing in
the Jackson Mississippi Opera, during the height of segregation.
At one point, the praise and critical acclaim for Holmes reached such
a height that he was considered “The foremost Negro Baritone of our
In the late 1960's (U.S.), what did it mean to be proclaimed "The foremost Negro Baritone"?
Composer Gian Carlo Menotti created a role of Ukamba in his
opera, The Most Important Man, written specifically for Holmes, which he
performed in the 1971 premier at the New York City Opera.
In 1973, Holmes performed in the opera, Aida with famous tenor
Placido Domingo. In total, Holmes played in an impressive repertoire of
more than 75 different operas, including The Marriage of Figaro, La
Traviata, Nabucco, The Mask, Bolero and Madame Butterfly.
Later, Holmes left the U.S. for a permanent contract with the
Deutsche Opera am Rheine in Dusseldorf, Germany. He became well known in
Germany for his singing and humanistic activities with UNICEF. Holmes
died in 2007 with many friends, colleagues and admirers.
Now this intriguing story is finally being uncovered and documented
for the American audience. Ragland, along with his cousin Wayne Adams, a
New York City audio engineer, have traveled to Germany for filming. The
pair has filmed many people, including Holmes’ widow, Katja Holmes, and
Holmes’ colleagues at the Dusseldorf Opera.
So how did we come to do this project?
The short story is that I shared the story with NYC author and photographer Fiona Gardner, who told me I should make a documentary. With her advice and the help of my maternal cousin Wayne Adams, we began figuring out were to start.
I grew up hearing about my famous opera singing uncle Eugene. We used to listen to his spirituals record. After seeing him at a family gathering in the late 90's I resolved I would visit him in Germany. During the summer of 2003, I was visiting friends in Paris and decided to take a road trip to uncle Eugene. While in Dusseldorf, I came to realize how much Opera and my uncle was valued and supported outside of the US. I'm not even sure why, but over dinner with Eugene in Dusseldorf, I pulled out a recorder and asked him to tell me about his life. I came to wonder how the 14th child of Tennessee sharecroppers ended up as an opera star in Dusseldorf.
Eugene left Germany because it was difficult for opera singers to find permanent work in the U.S. Being a black classical artist during the 60's presented even more of a challenge. While on that trip I learned that Eugene had a son with a Japanese woman. When discussing it with him, Eugene described the difficulty of his son living between German and Japanese culture.
When Eugene died in 2007, I attended his funeral in Germany and decided that I needed to share his important story with a wider audience.
We are raising funds to complete our journey. for travel to Japan to meet and film Eugene's Son, licensing for Eugene's performance footage, and research (translation) and editing assistance.
One of the major risks is the financing of this project. After figuring out exactly what we need to complete this film, we decided that kickstarter would be our best option. That comes with some risk. We have found ways to cut cost through our friends, who have donated time researching, editing and translating. We overcome the tight budget constraints and possible delays with the our commitment- as this is a labor of love, help from our friends, family. We also have friends in Germany and Japan who have are helping us with inexpensive lodging and translation so we can stretch our funding. In essence, our supportive community of friends helps us to overcome some of the financial difficulty.
We've funded the project so far with our own resources and will continue to do so in the event that we run over on production. But with the support of the kickstarter community we will be able to complete this project in a timely manner.
Other obstacles include language and communication issues, which our overseas friends have been able to help us tackle. As an international educator, I have met colleagues from various places who I've been able to call on for support.
The last risks involves communication with Eugene's son. We talked about if he does not wish to talk with us. As a result, we have been documenting the entire process of our journey. This risk is one of the intriguing factors of this story. We are committed to following the archives, research and stories where it leads. Although we have a framework and ending point we think it is important to include whatever comes out through this journey.
Get an assorted 10 song download of Eugene Holmes' Spirituals and Classical performances along with a link to watch unseen footage of film in progress, as well as film updates. Receive a finished film download at the projects completion.
Get 15 song downloads of Eugene Holmes' Spirituals and Classical performances, along with film progress and updates, a link to watch unseen footage of film in progress, invitations to deepriverfilm events, and special thanks credits at the end of the film. Receive a finished film download at the projects completion.
Get a 20 song download of Eugene Holmes' Spirituals and Classical performances, as well as and gold level special thanks credits at the end of the film, a link to watch unseen footage of film in progress, along with film progress and updates. With this level donation you will also receive a two copies of the finished film (DVD or download), invitations to deepriverfilm events, and two ticket to the film's premier.
Get a 20 song download of Eugene Holmes' Spirituals, a link to watch unseen footage of film in progress, monthly update email about the film, other performances and platinum level special thanks credits at the end of the film, Two copies of the finished film (DVD or download), and four tickets to film premier and release party. At this level of donation you will also receive one 4X8 b/w photo of Eugene in performance and a invitations to selected on location filming.