“Bess, You Is My Woman Now:” Documenting Images from the Larney Goodkind Papers

by Felicia D. Render, Archivist

Photograph: William Warfield and Leontyne Price's wedding, August 1952

African American bass-baritone opera singer William Warfield frequently sang opposite Leontyne Price, America’s first Black soprano to become a leading performer at the Metropolitan Opera. Their richly melodious rendition of “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” from George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess foretold their personal love story as husband and wife. On August 30, 1952, exactly one day before the entire cast of Porgy and Bess left for a European tour, the couple married and held their wedding ceremony at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York. The entire cast attended the ceremony.

Imagery from the marriage of William Warfield and Leontyne Price is well-documented in the numerous black and white photographs found within the Larney Goodkind papers. Larney Goodkind was the talent agent for both William Warfield and Leontyne Price. He was also the talent agent for other classical singers and musicians, and served as a literary agent for writers, including William Steig and Ben Radin. Together with his wife, Karen Rose Goodkind, he represented at different times musical performers, playwrights, directors and graphic artists during the late 1940s to the 1970s. Other artists represented by Goodkind included playwright-director Joseph Anthony. Goodkind also served as a story editor for Universal Pictures from 1938 to 1947.

Photograph: William Warfield, Leontyne Price, and Cab Calloway during a break from the rehearsal of "Porgy and Bess," 1952

The Amistad Research Center acquired the Larney Goodkind papers between 2012 and 2015 in installments, and the collection has been preserved by archivists with funding assistance from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. The Goodkind papers primarily document Larney Goodkind’s client, William Warfield, whose papers are also held at Amistad. The collection highlights Goodkind’s efforts to promote Warfield’s career as an international classical operatic performer. Some materials pertain to other clients as well, including Leontyne Price. Formats in the collection include correspondence, concert programs and stage bills, concert reviews, photographs, contracts, biographical sketches, scrapbooks, certificates and awards, press releases and sound recordings of Warfield’s performances. Other formats are oversized contracts, royalty statements, biographical sketches, press books, certificates and awards, press releases and concert posters. Several of the concert programs have handwritten annotations with concertgoers’ remarks and opinions of the performances.

Photographs within the Goodkind papers are numerous encompassing color and black and white prints dating 1948-1976. The bulk of the photographs reflect publicity and headshot photographs of William Warfield (1948-1976); and images of Warfield in Vienna, Austria (1952), Germany (1952), Lahore, Pakistan (1958), Sydney, Australia (1950), and a performance tour of several African and European countries (1956). Other photographs represented within the collection include images of composers, arrangers and concert singers represented by Goodkind’s agency.

Photograph: William Warfield and Leontyne Price backstage, undated

The black and white photographs of William Warfield and Leontyne Price’s wedding and opera performances allow us to experience a snapshot of their past in unprecedented ways. These images capture the essence and the historical context of the past, allowing us to understand their life—without written context—but with their physical involvement in countless events, people and places.

Also, these photographs mark a poignant moment in the Black narrative of classical and operatic musicians. Photographs within the collection cover the social and political influence of African Americans and reflect race relations in the 20th century, as seen in documentation of scenes of Warfield’s tours internationally. Other images of Warfield and Price include rehearsal and performance scenes such as those of the opera Porgy and Bess.

Most importantly, Goodkind’s papers and photographs exhibit African American singers, composers and individuals involved in the shift of the operatic and classical music genres to reflect more diverse experiences in concert halls, opera companies, and travel and music venues during the 20th century. Photographs within the papers will further serve significantly as primary source visual materials for all interested in the aforementioned genres. With purposeful and reflective thought of each image, these captivating photographs capture the visual moment, complexity and impactful message of Black music history in the United States and internationally.

The project to preserve and open the Larney Goodkind papers is funded in part by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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