Greenville native Hubert Walters was the first black student to receive a graduate degree at East Carolina University, the MA in music in 1965. Since childhood, when he heard him perform in Greenville, he has held a deep admiration for the tenor Roland Hayes (1887–1977).
Hayes, the son of former slaves, grew up in Georgia and Tennessee. Hayes attended Fisk University, where he sang tenor for the world-famous Fisk Jubilee Singers. Over the course of his long career, he toured America and Europe, and sang in London for King George V and Queen Mary (a private concert given at their request), and at one time was the world’s highest-paid tenor. Later in life, he taught at Boston University—where Walters himself also taught and directed the Voices of Imani Choir.
Walters recalls, “He came to Greenville to sing at my high school in a gymtorium. But incidentally, when he came to perform, he could not stay in the hotels in Greenville. He lived in the home of the dentist, Dr. Graves, in my hometown, who had a grand piano in his home…And after he did this group of German, French, and Italian lieder, he sang at the end of his program a group of spirituals.“