Dr. Shanté Williams Becomes First Woman and Person of Color to Lead Opera Carolina

Opera Carolina has named Dr. Shanté Williams, a Charlotte businesswoman, as its next general director. She will be the first woman and person of color to manage the organization, established in 1946.

Williams will take over for James Meena, who is also the principal conductor. The Charlotte Opera Company made the announcement on Monday. According to a news release, Meena will continue as artistic director, while Williams will take on the job of general director and handle business operations at Opera Carolina.

According to the Charlotte Observer, this is the second time a Charlotte performing arts company has promoted a person of color to senior leadership in recent months.In December, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra appointed Kwamé Ryan, a 53-year-old Black man from Trinidad, as its new music director, breaking a 91-year history of white male leadership.

Williams’ new position starts on July 1. “With a dynamic staff and passionate board, we will embrace and expand the company’s role as a leader in Charlotte’s artistic community and an agent for healing, inspiration, and joy,” Williams said at the time.

Board Chair Carol Kendrick recognized Williams’ accomplishments in fundraising, business, and support for Opera Carolina. According to the news release, Williams was instrumental in producing “The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson,” which stars Denyce Graves, a mezzo-soprano opera singer.

The February event celebrated the life and work of Mary Cardwell Dawson, a North Carolina native and opera pioneer who established the first financially successful Black opera company. Mezzo-soprano Graves felt passionate about the show.

“I am confident that under her (Williams’) guidance, Opera Carolina will continue to flourish and achieve great success,” Graves stated in the press statement. “Her commitment to excellence matched with her unwavering determination will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on the company and its future.”

Opera Carolina, founded in 1948 by the Charlotte Music Club, is the Carolinas’ largest professional opera company, serving over 70,000 people throughout North and South Carolina, as well as northern Georgia. The organization provides opera, educational, and community programs. Meena has been the maestro since 2000. Opera Carolina will commemorate its 75th season on October 30 with a fundraiser event featuring Italian singer Andrea Bocelli.

Williams is the CEO of Black Pearl Vision and its parent firm, Black Pearl Global Investments, a $25 million venture capital fund that invests in healthcare startups in North America, Africa, and the Caribbean.

Williams is well-known for her revolutionary chemotherapy treatments for high-grade invasive brain tumors. She has also held top positions in the healthcare and electric vehicle industries. The Charlotte native formed RW Capital Partners, which focuses on real estate, technology, startups, and commercial dispute resolution.

She has garnered multiple honors for her business and entrepreneurship activities, and she currently serves as chair emeritus of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce’s board.

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