Knoxville Opera has announced that renowned opera singer and Knoxville native Mary Costa was named a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts at a White House ceremony on Jan. 13, 2021. The highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the U. S. government, the National Medal of the Arts is awarded to individuals and groups for their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.
“To receive the National Medal of Arts is the ultimate honor of my career, and I am humble that my joy of singing has been awarded in this special way,” Costa said in a statement.
The soprano enjoyed an accomplished career in opera, television, recordings and movies, including her acclaimed voiceover work as the voice of the Princess Aurora in Walt Disney’s 1959 animated classic, Sleeping Beauty.
Following her early work in radio, television and the movies, she enjoyed worldwide acclaim for the 44 operatic roles she performed on stages throughout the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Royal Opera House in London and the Bolshoi in Moscow.
Named a Disney Legend by The Walt Disney Company in 1999, Costa was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Council on the Arts where she served from 2003 to 2007.
Costa still resides in Knoxville, where she starred in Knoxville Opera’s first two productions, La Traviata (1978) and The Merry Widow (1979). Her mother, Hazel Ogg Costa, was honored with inclusion on Central High School’s Wall of Fame in 2017. The Knox TN Today story by Dr. Jim Tumblin is here.
Now retired, Mary Costa is the recipient of numerous awards, including an honorary degree presented by the University of Tennessee. In recent years, she has devoted her time to speaking about the importance of the arts with school children.
Esther Blevins manages marketing, media and grants for the Knoxville Opera.