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Marguerite Piazza '40, Loyola alumna and legendary opera star, dies at 86

August 10, 2012

Marguerite Piazza ’40, an acclaimed opera singer and television star who graduated from the College of Music at Loyola University New Orleans, died of congestive heart failure on Thursday, Aug. 2 in Memphis, Tenn. She was 86.

A New Orleans native, Piazza began performing at the age of two and, at the age of 18, joined the New York City Opera as its youngest member in 1944, making her debut in the role of Nedda in Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci.” She later appeared with the company in Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Strauss’ “The Gypsy Baron” and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” among others.

In 1945, Piazza returned home to make her debut with the New Orleans Opera, singing the title role in Flotow’s “Martha” at the Municipal Auditorium. In 1951, she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera as Rosalinde von Eisenstein in "Die Fledermaus."

Easily transitioning from opera to stage to television, in 1951 Piazza starred on Broadway in “Happy as Larry,” and then later joined the cast of Sid Caesar’s hit television comedy “Your Show of Shows,” singing opera, musical numbers and ballads and occasionally performing in skits.

After her operatic career, Piazza was later a headliner in supper clubs and performed at such places as the Coconut Grove and the Sands in Los Angeles, and the Plaza and the Waldorf in New York.

Even after relocating to Memphis in the 1970s, Piazza frequently returned to New Orleans to perform at the Roosevelt Hotel Blue Room and with the New Orleans Pops. She also received multiple honors from the city and local Italian-American groups. The ball gown she wore as the first queen of the Krewe of Virgilians, established by local Italian-Americans, is in the possession of the American Italian Cultural Center.

Piazza was an avid fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, hosting an annual gala in her name and raising millions for the cause. The singer, who survived multiple battles with cancer, was also an advocate for cancer prevention and a dedicated supporter of the American Cancer Society.

In 2007, she published a memoir, “Pagliacci Has Nothing on Me.” According to her obituary in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, she spent recent years gathering and restoring tapes of her performances on the program, donating copies to the University of Memphis’s music library.

A Mass was held Tuesday, Aug. 7 at St. Louis Catholic Church in Memphis.

To make a donation in Piazza’s name to Loyola’s College of Music and Fine Arts, please contact Anna Justice, development officer for the College of Music and Fine Arts, at 504-861-5989 or ajustice@loyno.edu.

For more information, contact Jess Brown in Loyola’s Office of Public Affairs at jlbrown@loyno.edu or call 504-861-5882.

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Loyola at a Glance is written and distributed for the faculty, staff, students and friends of Loyola University New Orleans. It is published by the Office of Public Affairs, Greenville Hall, Box 909, 7214 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70118. (504) 861-5888.

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