Edna C. Williams, who taught voice in the NIU School of Music from 1965 to 1994, died New Year’s Eve in Chicago. She was 79.
The internationally known soprano, who also was born in Chicago, continued to give private lessons after her retirement from NIU and also served as a piano accompanist for many musical artists and for Chicago’s Eighth Church of Christ, Scientist.
According to the Chicago Crusader, she had been hospitalized at the University of Illinois Medical Center “after suffering an aneurism Dec. 20. She had conducted rehearsals and coordinated Monumental Baptist Church’s 45th annual performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ only four days before she was stricken.”
The graduate of Parker High School began her life in higher education at Wilson Junior College, where she sang in the choir, the madrigals and as a soloist with the Collegeiate Sinfonietta. She later earned bachelor’s (1957) and master’s (1959) degrees in music from the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University, where she studied voice with Harvey Ringel and piano with Felix Ganz.
Among her honors were the Sue Cowan Hintz Voice Award, the Oliver Ditson Voice Scholarship and the John Hay Whitney Fellowship. The Whitney afforded her 15 months of study in Vienna, Austria, where she studied German repertoire under Baron Hans Karg-Bebenberg and Erik Werba and presented two critically acclaimed recitals.
When she returned to the United States in 1960, she toured Illinois, Indiana and Ohio and also performed on radio and television. She taught at the Joliet Conservatory of Music from 1962 to 1965 before coming to NIU.
“When Edna Williams … sings, her voice soars into the celestial realms of glory and like an angel thrills one’s soul,” the review glowed. “Her tones are impeccable and she stands there a lovely and beautiful creature of ebony hue providing a magnificent wealth of sound.”
Her professional career also included time in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus. She held memberships in the National Association of Teachers of Singing, the National Association of Negro Musicians and the Chicago Music Association, where she recently served as second vice president and scholarship chair.
Services were held Saturday, Jan. 5, at Monumental Baptist Church.