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Ben Holt, a baritone who sang with the Metropolitan and New York City opera companies, was only thirty-four years old when he died in 1990 of Hodgkin's Disease. He was born in Washington, D.C., in 1955, and first performed at the age of eight at Takoma Elementary School in their production of Mendelssohn's Elijah. Holt studied voice at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, winning a scholarship two years later to the Juilliard School's Opera program.
Winner of numerous awards and fellowships, Holt is best known for playing the title role Malcolm in Anthony Davis's opera, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X in the 1986 New York City Opera company world premiere production, occasioning a ten-minute standing ovation when he came out for a bow on opening night. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1985 as Schaunard in Puccini's La Bohème. Other major operatic roles included Josiah in Thea Musgrave's Harriet, the Woman Called Moses, Porgy in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, and Randall Ware in Ulysses Kay's Jubilee.
A popular recitalist, he often programmed work by black composers and arrangements of spirituals. Holt appeared in the Kennedy Center's 1979 National Black Music Colloquium and Competition presentation of composition finalists and went on to perform with a number of major orchestras in his brief career, including the New York Philharmonic, the National Symphony, and Canada's Tafelmusik. Unfortunately, he was only able to make a few recordings.
The annual Ben Holt Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in 1996 at the Juilliard School of Music to help support students of African and/or Native heritage, and an annual concert series in his name ran at Lawrence University for several years. Ben Holt is remembered for his exciting stage presence as well as his fine voice.