Roland Hayes, a versatile tenor who blazed the trail to public recognition of black singers as serious artists, died at 89 Saturday in Boston.
Born in a Curryville, Ga. cabin June 3, 1887, Mr. Hayes sang with major orchestras in American and European cities and gave a command performance before King George V and Queen Mary in Buckingham Palace.
His mother, an ex-slave, had warned him when he was 20 that his prospects for success were slim: "They tell me Negroes cannot understand good singing and even if they can, white people don't want to hear it from them."
Later, after he began gaining acclaim, he recalled she took him in her arms and said, "I'm not afraid for you anymore."
Mr. Hayes, who sang the classical pieces and traditional European songs expected of serious artists, was also credited with introducing Afro-American spirituals and folk melodies to the concert stage.
"His art is subtle and yet so simple and eloquent that it is hard to describe it," Washington Post music critic Paul Hume wrote in November 1949. "It consists, in part, of the highest standards of performance and repertoire . . . His tone is as velvet as of old, and in quiet moments of rarest purity."
Mr. Hayes's father died when he was very young, and his mother moved to Chattanooga where he and his two brothers took turns at work and school. Hayes became an iron foundry foreman for $5 a day.
His singing in a church choir brought encouragement to study voice. With his share of the family savings, he studied for four years at Fisk University and sang in its choir.
After the Fisk choir sang in Boston, Mr. Hayes was encouraged by teachers to study voice further. He trained in Boston for eight years, and gave his first concert there. Concert managers, however, were still wary of booking an American tour for a black singer, so Mr. Hayes began singing in Europe and gained the recognition of great musicians there.
Within a few years, American managers were ready to arrange tours for him in this country. In the first year after he returned from abroad, Mr. Hayes gave 30 concerts - in the second year, 125.
The small slender musicial pioneer led the way for such other famous black singers as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price. After one of her own concerts, Miss Price once told Mr. Hayes backstage, "Thank you for making this possible for me."
Mr. Hayes himself once said, "I felt that if I succeeded in doing something quite worthwhile the affection that fell on me wouldn't fail to fall on my people, but my thought, has always been to do something for all people. I would never have done this work if I thought I was only good enough for my own people."
In the later phases of his career, Mr. Hayes gave numerous concerts on college campuses. On his 75th birthday in June 1962 he sang in a Carnegie Hall concert - during which the audience rose to sing him "Happy Birthday."
Survivors include his widow Helen, a daughter Afrika Lambe a soprano, and two granddaughters.