When William Winter became governor of Mississippi in 1980, he invited two of Mississippi’s most respected cultural treasures to participate in the inaugural activities. Joining Winter in this photograph are, from left, author Eudora Welty, operatic soprano Leontyne Price, and First Lady Elise Winter.
Welty, born in Jackson in 1909, received every major literary award in America for her fiction. Known as a master of the short story, she also wrote novels, including Losing Battles and The Optimist’s Daughter, for which she received the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1973. Her acclaimed memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings, published by Harvard University Press, became the first bestseller in the history of the press. Welty was the first living writer to have her works published by the Library of America, assuring that they will always be in print. They have also been adapted for stage and screen. Also an accomplished photographer, her images of the Great Depression have been published and exhibited widely. Her home in Jackson, where she lived from 1926 until her death in 2001 and wrote every piece she published, is one of the nation’s most intact literary house museums and is a National Historic Landmark, administered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Price is a native of Laurel and was born in 1927. She began piano lessons at age five and, as a student, accompanied school concerts. In 1944, she enrolled in the College of Educational and Industrial Arts in Ohio to study to become a music teacher. The college president heard her sing and encouraged her to major in voice. After graduation she studied at the Julliard School of Music in New York City on a full scholarship. She made her debut in Dallas as Bess in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and toured in the production worldwide, gaining international recognition. Throughout her career, Price played to packed houses and rave reviews. She was particularly lauded for her title role in Verdi’s Aida. She debuted at the Metropolitan Opera as Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, receiving a 42-minute ovation. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Kennedy Center Honors and has won numerous Grammy Awards for her vocal recordings.