About Ollie Watts Davis
Described as “a bubbling stream of a voice, remarkably smooth down into a resonant, rich low register” (San Francisco Chronicle), Ollie Watts Davis earns superlatives wherever she sings. Since her New York debut at Carnegie Hall, she has appeared with many of the nation’s leading orchestras, including the San Francisco, Minnesota, Houston, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Dallas Symphony orchestra; in opera with the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival; the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis; Des Moines Metro Opera; Opera Theatre of Springfield; and Illinois Opera Theatre; and internationally for performances and classes in North, Central, and South America; Europe; Africa; and Asia.
Passionate about performances of historic significance, Ollie Watts Davis has performed in prestigious venues in Pakistan, Costa Rica, France, and throughout the United States. Recent presentations include I’m a Stranger Here Myself, as part of the exhibit, With Firmness in the Right: Lincoln and the Jews at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield (IL), where she also presented The Concert that Shook the Establishment, a re-creation of Marian Anderson’s 1939 Easter morning concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She completed a residency at the University of Arkansas as performing artist and master class clinician and was featured in the PBS documentary The Caged Bird: The life and music of Florence B. Price. She has released two recordings as conductor and soprano with the Black Chorus at the University of Illinois and is featured on Rootsongs, with the Jupiter Quartet. These come in addition to her solo recording of spiritual arrangements, Here’s One, which was featured on National Public Radio.
Recent creative activity includes presenting at the National Association of Teachers of Singing 75th Anniversary Transatlantic Pedagogy Tour to Germany, in addition to concerts and classes in West Virginia, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, and Chicago. In 2020, her work with Black Chorus was featured on the WILL-PBS documentary, American Portrait: Central Illinois, Lift Every Voice and in February 2021 she directed the 15th Black Sacred Music Symposium at the University of Illinois. Current year engagements include solo and guest conductor appearances in Chicago, and service as a Master Teacher for the National Association of Teachers of Singing Intern Program at Georgia Southern University at Statesboro.
In addition to her concert career, Dr. Davis uses her voice for important work as the writer of the mentoring curriculum, Talks My Mother Never Had With Me, and as a passionate mentor for young singers with StudiO: the Ollie Watts Davis Institute for Vocal Arts. She is widely sought after as an inspirational speaker and delivered the keynote address for the televised 2020 Wisconsin Statewide Celebration honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the invitation of Governor Tony Evers from the Capitol Rotunda in Madison.
Dr. Ollie Watts Davis is the Suzanne and William Allen Distinguished Professor of Music, Professor of Voice, Provost’s Fellow, and Artistic Director and Conductor of the Black Chorus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2018, she was awarded the Outstanding Faculty Leadership Award; her second Campus Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2014; the Illinois Student Senate Teaching Excellence Award in 2012; and was named a University Scholar in 2008, one of the highest honors bestowed upon a member of the faculty at the University of Illinois. Other awards include the UI College of Fine and Applied Arts Outstanding Faculty Award, a Recognition Award from the UI Alumni Association, and the Bronze Medallion of Honor by the UI Women’s Association, where she was recognized as a woman who through example and service has used her talents to enrich the lives of others.
Additional awards include the Charles E. Walton Award presented by the Vivian G. Harsh Research Society of the Chicago Public Library for her “inestimable contributions” in 2016; the “Key to the City” for her musical contributions to the cultural life of Champaign, Illinois in 2015; the National Association for the Study and Performance of African American Music National Award in 2013; and the 40 North Lifetime ACE Award in 2012, which honors her accumulated successes for continued, outstanding support of the arts in the Champaign-Urbana community. Dr. Davis is a national honorary member of Sigma Alpha Iota; and holds honorary membership in the National Society of Arts and Letters, and Phi Beta Kappa.
A West Virginia native, Dr. Davis holds the Bachelor of Science (magna cum laude) from West Virginia Institute of Technology, where she was named Alumna of the Year; the Master of Arts from West Virginia University, and the Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts (Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She and her husband, Rev. Dr. Harold Davis have five adult children, and three wonderful grandchildren.
My personal journey to professional artistry has informed my teaching philosophy. As a professor, I seek to be a fair advocate and provide counsel for talented students, whether the student seeks financial aid opportunities, extra one-on-one mentoring, a guided research experience, language training, study abroad, or a summer program, in order to meet their future goals. In addition to teaching the skills necessary to be a complete musician, I transfer the knowledge needed to advance professionally as a musician. I encourage the personal demeanor necessary to be a healthy and supportive colleague in performance and academic contexts, enlivening the attitude that the progress of the group toward their common goals is paramount to personal accolades and achievement. I embody the lifestyle necessary to be a complete musician staying physically healthy, setting priorities, preparing well, and practicing effectively. I emphasize an attitude of enjoying and learning from the process of making music. I believe that the joy of the process will strengthen and motivate the student to continue with the discipline, persistence, and passion necessary to sustain a career in music. This has certainly been true in my case.
B.S. West Virginia Institute of Technology (magna cum laude)
M.A. West Virginia University
M.M. and D.M.A., University of Illinois (Phi Beta Kappa)