Charlotte businesswoman makes history with new leadership role at Opera Carolina

Opera Carolina has named Charlotte businesswoman Dr. Shanté Williams as its new general director. She will become the first woman and first person of color to lead the business operations of the organization founded in 1946.

Williams will succeed James Meena, who also serves as the Opera Carolina’s principal conductor, the Charlotte opera company announced on Monday.

Meena will continue to serve as artistic director while Williams will oversee business matters as general director, the opera company said in a news release.

Opera Carolina is the second major Charlotte performing arts group in recent months to elevate a person of color to their top leadership ranks for the first time.

In December, the 91-year-old Charlotte Symphony Orchestra announced it would be led by someone other than a white man for the first time. It named Kwamé Ryan, a 53-year-old Black man who grew up on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, as its new music director.

Shanté Williams will become the new general director for Opera Carolina on July 1.
Shanté Williams will become the new general director for Opera Carolina on July 1.

‘Commitment to excellence’

Williams’ new position starts on July 1.

“With a dynamic staff and passionate board, we will embrace and expand the company’s role as a leader in Charlotte’s artistic community and an agent for healing, inspiration and joy,” Williams stated in the announcement.

Board Chair Carol Kendrick said Williams has a record of success in fundraising, business and supporting Opera Carolina, according to the news release. Williams was instrumental in bringing Opera Carolina’s production of “The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson” to life, with mezzo-soprano opera star Denyce Graves.

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That performance in February centered on the life’s work of Dawson, a North Carolina native and opera pioneer who started the first commercially successful Black opera company. The production was a passion project for Graves.

“I am confident that under her (Williams’) guidance, Opera Carolina will continue to flourish and achieve great success,” Graves said in the news release. “Her commitment to excellence matched with her unwavering determination will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on the company and its future.”

Opera Carolina performed the Biblical drama “Samson & Delilah” in April at Belk Theater. The organization has named Shanté Williams as new general director.
Opera Carolina performed the Biblical drama “Samson & Delilah” in April at Belk Theater. The organization has named Shanté Williams as new general director.

About Opera Carolina

The organization was founded in 1948 by the Charlotte Music Club and is the largest professional opera company in the Carolinas. It serves more than 70,000 people in North Carolina, South Carolina and northern Georgia.

Opera Carolina provides opera, education and community programs to the public. Meena has served as its maestro since 2000.

Opera Carolina will celebrate its 75th season on Oct. 30 with a benefit concert featuring Italian singer Andrea Bocelli.

Opera Carolina pertformed Puccini’s classic “Tosca” last fall.
Opera Carolina pertformed Puccini’s classic “Tosca” last fall.

More on Williams

Williams is the CEO of Black Pearl Vision and its parent company Black Pearl Global Investments, a $25 million venture capital fund.

The firm has made venture capital investments in healthcare startups across North America, Africa and the Caribbean. She has been recognized for discovering innovative chemotherapy treatments for high-grade invasive brain tumors. Williams also served in leadership position in the healthcare and electric drive vehicle industries.

The Charlotte native founded her first company, RW Capital Partners, after a career with corporate companies. The firm specializes in real estate, technology development, start-ups and business disputes resolution.

Williams has received numerous awards for her business and entrepreneurship work. And she serves on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce as chair emeritus of the board of directors.