One of the happiest professional moments I had in the last year came when I named a baby llama. I was e-mailed by a llama breeder, Trish Brandt-Robuck, who runs the RBR Ranch in Newcastle, CA. She likes to name her llamas after opera singers, because groups of children often visit, and she likes the llama names to be educational.
Her question to me was this. A new and perfectly adorable llama baby was black, and male. Could I suggest a male black opera singer to name him after? I thought a bit and came up with Roland Hayes, the pioneering African-American recitalist of the 1920s and 1930s. He was a wonderful singer, and contended with racial barriers we can barely imagine. What could it have been like for an African-American to give a recital in Berlin in 1920, and endure 10 minutes of hissing before he could begin? Hayes persevered, and became, along with his artistic distinctions, one of the most highly paid classical vocal recitalists of his time. His influence was enormous; among much else, he helped to mentor Paul Robeson, William Warfield, and Leontyne Price.
Trish did name the llama Roland Hayes, and keeps me posted on what’s happening with him. He just won second prize in his first competition, which Trish thinks is only the beginning. She’s sure he’ll be a champion. And how can I doubt that? Here he is, posing with his second-prize red ribbon. Isn’t he a beauty?