|Year of Birth:||1928|
|Year of Death:||2016|
Russell Keys Oberlin (October 11, 1928 – November 25, 2016) was an American singer and founding member of the New York Pro Musica Antiqua ensemble who became the first, and for years the only, countertenor in the United States to attain general recognition—in The New Yorker's words, "America's first star countertenor." A pioneering figure in the early music revival in the 1950s and 1960s, Oberlin sang on both sides of the Atlantic, and brought a "full, warm, vibrato-rich tone" to his recitals, recordings, and his performances in works ranging from the thirteenth-century liturgical drama The Play of Daniel to the twentieth-century opera A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Russell Oberlin was born in 1928 in Akron, Ohio. He sang professionally as a child, and studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York from 1948 to 1951, beginning a career as a tenor even before his graduation. In 1952, he was a founding member of the New York Pro Musica Antiqua, with which he appeared as soloist in medieval and Renaissance repertory, initially as a "high tenor" but soon taking over alto parts, as his unusual vocal range came to light. He sang regularly with the ensemble through 1959, and made later appearances as a guest soloist. Oberlin was featured in the roles of Belshazzar's Prince and the Herald Angel in Pro Musica's acclaimed restoration of the medieval liturgical drama with music The Play of Daniel, first presented at The Cloisters in January 1958, and was in the subsequent recording as well as a 1965 public television version which became an annual Christmas telecast. "Accompanied by the centuries-old instruments Noah Greenberg had assembled," as George Birnbaum recalled, "I suspect that many people—myself included—date their personal entry into this strange Gothic sound world from the moment they heard Russell Oberlin's distinctive, plangent voice singing in a range which Björling or Pavarotti could never attempt."