Wichita State opera professor Samuel Ramey to be honored in 2015

Opera star and Wichita State graduate and professor Samuel Ramey, left, works with WSU student Andrew Simpson in 2012.
Opera star and Wichita State graduate and professor Samuel Ramey, left, works with WSU student Andrew Simpson in 2012. Courtesy of Wichita State University

Opera singer and Kansas native Samuel Ramey will add two more accomplishments to his already impressive list this year with an honor at the 10th annual Opera News Awards and a lifetime achievement award from the National Opera Association.

“I guess it’s my year for awards,” he said with a chuckle.

The annual Opera News Awards honors five singers for distinguished achievement in the field of opera. The honorees are chosen by the editors of Opera News, published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild.

Ramey said he found out about the award in August but was “sworn to secrecy” until the honorees were announced in December.

At next week’s National Opera Association Convention in Greensboro, N.C., Ramey will be honored with the lifetime achievement award and will judge the vocal competition.

A Colby native, Ramey graduated from Wichita State University in 1968. In January, he returned to the school as a faculty member in the music department.

One of his students, Andrew Simpson, won one of the opera association’s vocal competitions last year against what he called “well-established music schools.” He performed a scene from the opera “Susannah,” which Ramey has performed many times during his career.

“He kind of just mentored us through the role,” Simpson said.

Ramey said it’s nice to “come full circle” back to WSU.

Rodney Miller, WSU’s dean of fine arts, said it’s nice to have him.

“Sam is like the Ted Williams of opera,” he said. “He’s the most recorded bass in opera. … It’s just a wonderful, wonderful thing.”

Miller, who was a professional opera singer himself, said he can appreciate Ramey’s accomplishments firsthand. He said that even though Ramey is known worldwide, he’s “a humble Kansas guy.”

Simpson agreed. He said he never felt starstruck by the opera star.

“I was never really that nervous,” Simpson said. “I could bring what I wanted to bring to the table. Sometimes with big-time singers, that’s not the case.”

Ramey said he’s become good friends with his students. Simpson, who said he plans to have lunch with Ramey when he visits Wichita, is no exception.

“I just talked to him about a week ago,” Simpson said. “He’s very personable in that regard.”

“What Sam is really great at is the stylistic coaching,” said Simpson, who said he sings in a similar register as Ramey does. “He stays really true to the music.”

He said Ramey’s coaching helped him when he was auditioning for a job after graduate school.

As for the awards, Simpson said he’s “been expecting it.”

“I think he absolutely deserves it,” he said.