Emmanuel Henreid

Black Opera: Singing Over Ourselves

The Portland opera singer Onry raises his voice for inclusion


By ONRY


I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, often called “the Whitest City in America.” I’m a Black opera singer, dancer, actor, composer, musician, and educator. I strive to weave all these worlds together and bring culture and diversity to my listeners.

When I was around seven years old, I turned on the TV one day and saw my first opera. It was on the only channel that came through at the time. I sat down, and I started to recognize the grand gestures of 1990s Marvel superheroes. Many may think opera is a stuffy thing, but for this seven-year-old’s eyes, it was full of villains, people cheating on one another, hearts being broken, death, betrayal. Fascinated, I ran to my siblings and to my stepdad and said, “I want to be an opera singer! Oooo-ooh!” I hadn’t hit puberty yet. I had this high soprano voice, and I was singing around.

Onry singing at Yale Union. Photo: Tiana Avila

Little did I know, years before I was born, my mother also wanted to be an opera singer. She auditioned and was accepted for the Portland Opera. Then someone came along and told her that she couldn’t do it because she had three kids. She gave up that dream and never told me until later in life.

When I was ten years old, my father passed away, and there wasn’t a lot of conversation around his death. From that moment on, I went mute. I was quiet that entire year, except for when I made music. People didn’t have a chance to get to know me. One thing I held close was music. I would sing over myself. I’d weep and cry. I would sing hymns from church. Songs would comfort and console me.

Continues…