Shirley Verrett, a noted mezzo-soprano and soprano praised for her soaring voice and elegant onstage persona, died Nov. 6 in Ann Arbor, Mich. She was 79.

Verrett’s professional debut took place in 1957 with her performance as Irina in Weill’s Lost in the Stars at the New York City Opera. The New Orleans-born singer studied at the Juilliard School in New York and won the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1961. Five years later, Verrett appeared at London’s Royal Opera as Ulrica in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera and later in Bizet’s Carmen, a title role that would define her career. Decades later, Verrett penned her memoir, I Never Walked Alone, where she recounted incidents of racism at the height of her career.

In 1974, critic John Steane described Verrett’s voice as “directed with a sharp sense of dramatic immediacy and intensity, so that it draws the listener toward it. She also offers a scrupulous attention to detail, and a virtuoso’s brilliance of execution. She is to quite a remarkable extent the complete singer.”