Women's Activism NYC

Graciela Rivera

1921 - 2011

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Opera singer Graciela Rivera was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on April 17, 1921. Her father, Gonzalo Salvador Rivera, was an evangelical minister, and her mother was Ennqueta Padilla. She was one of eight children born to a family of limited resources and modest economic means. Due to the nature of her father's job, they were forced to move often around the island, and went from Ponce to the town of Catano when Rivera was two years old. Graciela began to sing when she was a young child. She attended her father s religious sendees and sang religious hymns accompanied by a foot-pedal organ. It was not until she was in high school, however, that her musical talents were discovered. One day, music teacher Dwight W. Hiestand was testing the student's voices to classify their vocal registers. He asked Rivera to sing and discovered that she had a superb coloratura soprano voice. He took her under his wing and taught her the foundations of music. Soon she started to appear in the school's musical productions, where she received great accolades. She was cast as the lead in the school productions of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and Verdi's Rigoletto where the audience was charged a 25- or 50-cent admission. Her talent was so great that her teachers encouraged her to pursue a professional career in music. After graduation from high school, Rivera was admitted to Julliard. She had to work and offer summer recitals to support herself and pay for her school expenses. After her second year at Julliard, she received a scholarship that covered her tuition. In 1940 she met Joseph Zumchak, a U.S. military officer stationed in San Juan. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, his ship was ordered to travel to New York. Taking advantage of Rivera's Christmas break from Julliard, they married in 1941. Acting often as her professional manager, he was one of her greatest supporters throughout her career.

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