Composer Carlisle Floyd has Died, Aged 95

As one of America’s most influential creators in opera, the celebration of his centennial is planned for 2026

(Photo credit: Suzanne Plunkett/Associated Press)


Floyd’s first piano teacher was his mother; he also studied with Sidney Foster and Rudolf Firkusny. A graduate of Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Floyd completed his bachelor's degree in music in 1946, studying under composer Ernst Bacon

After Bacon encouraged him to try writing opera, Floyd composed one based on a short story of his. His operatic debut, “Slow Dusk,” premiered with Syracuse University’s Opera Workshop in 1949. That same year, he completed his master’s degree in music. The success of “Slow Dusk” led to him writing over a dozen operas over the next six decades. 

His 1955 opera “Susannah” was performed to critical acclaim and bolstered Floyd, then in his 20s, to international popularity. It was one of the first American operas to be performed in Europe, at the Brussels Exposition in 1958.

Floyd wrote his own librettos and in the following years, revised “Wuthering Heights” and debuted “The Passion of Jonathan Wade” for the New York City Opera. His non-operatic works include song and choral cycles, a piano sonata, books of etudes, and many symphonic movements. 

He collaborated with many renowned 20th century artists including Frank Corsaro, Phyllis Curtin, Renée Fleming, David Gockley, Mack Harrell, Robert Holton, Jack O'Brien, Harold Prince, Samuel Ramey, Julius Rudel, and Norman Treigle. 

Floyd is remembered for his generosity to his colleagues; he could always be counted on to assist any young artist or artist in crisis, helping them to discover their unique voice or resolution. In his 90s, he mentored Mark Adamo, Matt Aucoin, Jake Heggie, Henry Mollicone, and Rufus Wainwright.

Floyd taught at Florida State University from 1949 to 1976 and later at the University of Houston for two decades. There, he became co-director of the Houston Grand Opera Studio. 

In 2001, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, followed by the National Medal of Arts in 2004. He was one of the first recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors in 2008.

Floyd and Margery Kay Reeder, his wife of 53 years who passed away in 2010, had no children. Floyd is survived by four nieces, daughters of his sister. 

Our condolences to Mr. Floyd’s family, friends, students, and colleagues.