Some 20 years ago, when I interviewed soprano Barbara Hendricks, who was making her New World Symphony debut, she expressed concern over the absence of music education in school curricula and the devastating consequences of that omission, especially on African-American children. “Remember,” said the exquisite Arkansas-born singer, “that in a few years we will ask ourselves where the new Leontynes are. At the rate we are going, they will be few, or fleeting.” This month, Leontyne Price, the singer Hendricks referenced, celebrated her 90th birthday, and Hendricks’ farsighted observation rings true.In the opera world, African-American singers have achieved what was unthinkable decades ago. There are more singers today, but–just as Hendricks predicted–fewer stars since their peak in the 1960s and '70s. At the time, we saw glittering new figures dominating opera houses for many seasons–figures like Price, Shirley Verrett and Grace Bumbry.There was no one better than Price to herald the rise of the African-American soprano. She possessed a different voice, an unprecedented and unexpected sound in the operatic landscape. It was smoky and sensual, bringing new color and character to the genre. Her unique sound sparked controversy and praise, raising once more the question: “Is there such a thing as a 'black' voice?” Theories, both reasonable and preposterous, will continue to abound, even if there’s a broad consensus that the voices of African-American singers tend to possess a particularly velvety quality that elicits an incomparable thrill.