Renee Fleming | 1988 Winner
Raised by parents who were both teachers of singing, Fleming grew up with an extraordinary musical education. Thinking she wanted to go into teaching herself, she studied for a degree in education at SUNY Potsdam. During her undergraduate studies, performing meant singing at off-campus bars with her jazz trio. With encouragement to pursue her classical singing, she struggled to survive at not one, but two of the most competitive music institutions in the country, let alone the world. In her days at Eastman and Juilliard she was considered a fourth string soprano. Her 1986 debut in Salzburg was a paying gig, but it also brought to her attention the vast work that had to be done on both her vocal technique as well as her stage fright. It was also at this time that she was singing anything for any opera company that would pay her.