Features, Print July 5, 2020

Hitting The High Notes: Diane Bolden-Taylor Helps Youths Find Their Voice

by Valerie Vampola

Diane Bolden-Taylor grew up in the Baptist church, where anyone with a voice would have an audience, and anyone who hit the high notes would be praised as a hero – regardless of their skin color. She loved singing gospel for her church, until her choir director introduced her to Mozart. That’s when she learned she liked singing opera more, and discovered her true voice.

“Not a Saturday went by where I wasn’t propped up in front of the radio listening to the Met Opera,” said Bolden-Taylor.

Her church community recognized her talent and passion, so they pulled together finances to pay for a year’s worth of classical voice lessons. With that experience under her belt, she could attend university and properly study music.

Diane Bolton-Taylor on stage at Indiana University in 2007.

After receiving her undergrad in Bachelor of Music Education at Millikin University and her masters in vocal performance at Indiana University, she found herself in, of all places, Switzerland professionally singing opera. After 18 years in Europe, and becoming fluent in German, it was time to return to her home in East St. Louis, IL and expose the young black community to the wonders of classical music which had so enriched her life.

“I want to make sure they are introduced to classical music, have a more rounded education, and have the opportunity to sing that way. And you know what? They absolutely love it!” said Dr. Bolden-Taylor in a phone interview for BandWagon.

Many of the kids in her old East St. Louis community were well versed in genres like gospel, pop and rock, a trend she saw becoming the new normal over the past ten years. The new generation of singers had never touched classical repertoire nor ever sung in a foreign language.

For three summers, she partnered with the school district to give free vocal workshops, where she taught students classical repertoire, which included singing in languages such as German and Italian. Her dedication to introduce classical music and singing techniques to the new generation of black youths worked – perhaps with even longer-lasting results than expected. Years later, an old attendee of her workshop wrote about his musical pursuits. He received a degree in music and was now the director of a regionally respected gospel choir. Bolden-Taylor proves that with enthusiasm, knowledge, resources and opportunity, any community can thrive with cultural enrichment. Her community pulled together to support her as a young adult; she has indeed returned the gift.

For 25 years, Diane Bolden-Taylor taught at the University of Northern Colorado as a classical voice and foreign language diction professor before retiring in 2018. After an exciting life spent across the US and Europe, she enjoys a quiet retirement in Greeley, CO.