Caroline Helton is a pedagogue, performer and researcher who teaches Voice in the Department of Musical Theatre at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Over the past decade, she has performed and recorded classic song repertoire by composers whose art was suppressed, and through her teaching, recordings, and publications, she is a tireless advocate for integrating the canon of American vocal music to reflect and respect its true diversity.
As a concert and recording artist, Dr. Helton’s area of interest is bringing to light newly rediscovered repertoire by Jewish composers whose lives were affected by World War II. Along with pianist Dr. Kathryn Goodson, the duo has recorded three compact discs of rare song repertoire by Italian Jewish composers from the first half of the twentieth century, in collaboration with Aloma Bardi, musicologist and President of the International Center for American Music. Their series of recordings is entitled Songs from a Lost World of Italian Jewish Composers, and features first recordings of art songs by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Vittorio Rieti, Leone Sinigaglia, Renzo Massarani and Guido Alberto Fano, among others. American Record Guide had this to say about the first CD in the series, L’Infinito:
“For the purposes of bringing recently discovered, historically significant music into the public consciousness, this recording should not be missed…. For aficionados of Italian music, opera or song, as well as people with an interest in music of the Holocaust or Jewish composers of this time, this recording is a must.”
Helton and Goodson have performed recitals of this repertoire in Italy as well as all over the U.S. In January of 2014 they were featured on a program commemorating International Holocaust Memorial Day at the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC, which was followed by a performance of the same program on the Shenson Recital Series at Stanford University.
At the University of Michigan, Dr. Helton’s pedagogical interests include research into the healing power of song. She has been collaborating with Dr. Emery Stephens since 2004 on a project called “Singing Down the Barriers,” and together they have published articles in the Journal of Multicultural Teaching and Learning as well as the NATS Journal of Singing about their work using art songs and spiritual settings of African American composers as a means of facilitating difficult racial conversations with groups of voice students from diverse backgrounds at universities all around the country. Their recent publication, a chapter on African American Art Song, was included in Randy Jones’ performance guide entitled So You Want to Sing Spirituals (published by the National Association of Teachers of Singing in 2019), and they are currently writing a book on their work together that will serve as a guide for 21st-century voice teachers to empower their own efforts to complete the canon of vocal music in such a way that represents African American composers’ true contributions to American song.
In collaboration with her University of Michigan colleagues Dr. Louise Toppin (Director) and Christie Finn of the Hampsong Foundation, Drs. Helton and Stephens are core faculty members of the Singing Down the Barriers Institute, a University of Michigan summer adult learning program that was launched in 2021. They also serve as master teachers with the Song of America Foundation, an organization founded by baritone Thomas Hampson for the purpose of exploring the use of art song as an educational tool for literature, history and social studies in K-12 schools. In addition to Singing Down the Barriers, Dr. Helton is part of a multi-faceted research team whose goal is to center the contributions of African American creators and performers across all styles and genres for academic institutions. The project, entitled “Singing Justice,” includes a diverse team of world-renowned scholars and performers (Naomi André, Stephen Berrey, Mark Clague, Christie Finn, Thomas Hampson, Louise Toppin) as well as graduate students doing groundbreaking work in performance and musicology.
Dr. Helton is an Associate Professor of Music (Musical Theatre) in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance as well as an Affiliate of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. She received BM and MM degrees in Vocal Performance from UNC-Chapel Hill and a DMA degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.