William Caesar Warfield was a noted African-American bass-baritone concert artist who had an extensive career that included major roles in two Hollywood films as well as stints on stage and on television. Probably no one ever performed “Ol’ Man River” from Jerome Kern’s Show Boat more times than Warfield, who performed it in several languages.
In 1946, Warfield was hired as the lead in a touring company performing Harold Rome’s musical Call Me Mister. Warfield impressed the critics and immediately snagged an extended tour of Australia. This, too, proved to be a great success and was followed by his first film, a remake of Show Boat, in which Warfield sang “Ol’ Man River” for the first time commercially.
Porgy and Bess was his next theatrical endeavor. The Bess in the cast was soprano Leontyne Price, whom Warfield married. They later separated, as Price’s career as a Metropolitan Opera star debut in 1957, while Warfield, despite his strong theatrical abilities, was limited largely by his gender to a concert career.
"A Portrait of William Warfield" airs Tuesday, February 13 at 6 PM on Jazzy 88.9.