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Sumayya Ali was born to parents who were second generation African-American Muslims. At the early age of nine, Sumayya was deeply inspired by a certain violin performance at her school and she expressed a strong interest in taking lessons to her parents. Her mother and her late father happily agreed and arranged for these lessons to take place. It was these lessons that led Sumayya onto the musical path and that started her career in the performing arts.
After practicing the violin for years, Sumayya transferred to Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the arts. It was here where she discovered her true talent: singing. One day, Sumayya began to mock her peers who were vocalists because “they were making this funny sound that [she] never had heard.” Samuel L.E. Bonds, a voice teacher at the school, was completely shocked when he heard this little girl’s voice- rather than being angry at her for mocking the works of other students, he took her into the studio to help Sumayya start working with her voice. Sumayya claims that Georges Bizet’s Opera, “Carmen,” was also an extremely influential piece for her and the performance really made her decide that opera singing was the right path for her.
However, Sumayya did not end up as a successful Opera singer without her share of adversities. As a practicing Muslim, she found it challenging to combine her career as a singer as well as her own values as a Muslim. While she was earning her master’s degree in vocal performance, she was put in a situation when her character, in a play, would have to be kissed. Sumayya could not abide by this requirement because of her own values and thus had to take a position in the chorus, which was an extremely devastating event for her.
Since that set back, Sumayya has excelled in many ways. She was a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition for the Boston District, and has performed in many different operas including Motzart’s “The Magic Flute,” Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Night Visitor,” and many more.
Sumayya finds that her spiritual relationship to the music she performs and the fact that she is also Muslim distinguishes her from other artists in her field. She claims that “a lot of [her] work is analytical” as she likes to study the musical dimensions.
With regard to her career, Sumayya has been on Broadway’s 2009 revival of “Ragtime,” performed on “American Idol” and Zulu danced with Step Afrika in Vietnam.