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The Marilyn Horne Museum, Downtown Bradford, PA

One of the greatest mezzo-sopranos of all time and Bradford, Pennsylvania’s most famous daughter, Marilyn Horne has always had a special place in the hearts of many music lovers. And now her legacy has a special place in the heart of Bradford’s downtown historic district. The Marilyn Horne Museum and Exhibit Center, which will be celebrating its first anniversary this spring, has already welcomed over 2,000 visitors interested in the life and career of one of the most lauded opera singers in the world. This spring, Matthew Hileman, manager of the museum, invites visitors to explore this beautiful 3,400-square foot space and experience classical music through the season’s remaining performances of the Chamber Concert Series.

Horne was born in Bradford in 1934, where she began singing at a very young age, starting vocal training at the age of four. Horne continued her training when her father moved the family to southern California when she was eleven years old.  In 1954, her career took off when she was chosen to sing the vocals for Dorothy Dandridge in the opera-based film, Carmen Jones.

From there, Horne went on to perform on different television variety shows, and in 1956, she sailed to Europe to pursue her opera training even further. Igor Stravinsky, one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, recognized Horne’s talent and invited her to perform in the 1956 Venice festival. From there, she performed for three seasons with the Gelsenkirchen Opera in Germany.

Horne gained worldwide attention in 1960 when the director of the San Francisco Opera asked her to travel from Europe to audition for a leading role, as the original vocalist became sick and was unable to perform her role. From that point forward, Horne became one of the most sought after mezzo sopranos in the opera world, spending thirty-nine seasons with the San Francisco Opera and twenty-six years with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Horne is the winner of four Grammy awards, and in 1992 she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George H.W. Bush. The recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor, Horne has been awarded numerous honorary doctorates and degrees from the Julliard School, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, and several others. Upon her retirement from the stage, Horne devoted her career to teaching aspiring singers, serving as the director of the Voice Program at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California since 1997.

In 2013, Horne donated her personal archives to the University of Pittsburgh; the Bradford campus became the centerpiece of the archive. Around this time, work began on a museum devoted to Horne’s career and archives. Seven years earlier, Dr. Robert Weiss donated his and his former business partner’s six-story circa 1932 building to the college. The space was utilized for various university offices and temporary classroom space until the renovation of the college’s Swarts Hall was completed in 2008. Work began to renovate the beautiful building into a museum, along with a gift shop, café and meeting space. On May 6, 2017, the museum hosted its grand opening, which was attended by Marilyn Horne, herself!

Matthew Hileman, who was hired as the museum’s manager last spring, remembered Horne’s reaction to the museum: “Marilyn was here for the opening weekend and was thrilled with the museum. She really had no idea how detailed and visually exciting the finished space would be.”

In addition to the exhibits throughout the museum, the space includes a beautiful theater where visitors can view a brief documentary film. According to Hileman, “Albert Filoni, the architect who designed the space, was particularly keen on this project. He chose a final design for the theater which would evoke the interior of La Fenice in Venice. Some of Marilyn’s most acclaimed performances happened there and when she saw the space for the first time she was moved to tears.”

Visitors to the museum can look forward to a fully interactive experience that starts with the building’s impressive foyer, complete with marble floors and signature Art Deco architecture. Horne’s archives, which include costumes and personal artifacts, come alive as visitors listen to the accompanying interviews with Horne and her recordings. Hileman emphasized what an important role the museum plays in the region’s history and beyond: “Her archive and the material in it is extremely important to the history of classical voice, opera, music and popular culture of the 20th century. Although we have had visitors from as far away as Germany, the majority of our guests are from Bradford. It has become a great resource for our community and a place where local residents can bring visitors and show off some of the spectacular history of our region.”

Feel classical museum come to life in the season’s remaining performances of the Chamber Concert Series this spring. On March 14, classical guitarist William Feasley will be performing his “Spring Sonatas” at the museum, which is one of several stops on his international tour. This free event is open to the public; doors open at 6:30pm and the performance begins promptly at 7pm. According to Hileman, the last concert of the season will feature a soprano and mezzo-soprano on April 11. A one-day summertime festival is planned for later this year, as well as a celebration of the retirement of Dr. Livingston Alexander, president of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, who was instrumental in securing Horne’s archives for Bradford.

Hileman encourages those interested in the museum’s exhibits and events to visit, where they can sign up for the museum’s online newsletter. The museum, which is located at 2 Marilyn Horne Way, is open daily and admission is free. Hours of operation are Monday-Saturday from 9am-5pm and Sunday from 11am-4pm. The café is also open daily and serves a variety of delicious pastries, specialty coffees and lighter fare. For more information, email or call 814-362-7990 and be sure to follow the Marilyn Horne Museum and Exhibit Center on social media.