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American roots


During the Revolutionary War, Sherrill Milnes’s great-great-great-grandfather, Matthew Lyon, is Ethan Allen’s second-in-command in the Green Mountain Boys. In 1778 he helps draft the Constitution (1778), and from 1797-1801 serves as a U.S. Congressman from Vermont


Matthew Lyon’s daughter, Elizabeth Ann Lyon, marries Dr. John Roe

Musical roots


Charles Ketcham Roe – Sherrill’s grandfather – is born in Downers Grove, Illinois; he later becomes the song leader at the Community Methodist Church, and his daughter, Thelma – Sherrill’s mother – its organist.


The year Verdi died, Sherrill’s parents – James Knowlton Milnes and Marion Thelma Roe – are born


Sherrill’s brother – Roe Knowlton Milnes – is born

Early Years

The Milnes Family, 1938
January 10, 1935

Sherrill Milnes is born to James Knowlton Milnes, a Methodist minister, and Marion Thelma Roe in Downers Grove, Illinois, and raised on a small dairy farm


A member of the 4-H Club, Sherrill enters a heifer that wins first place in the DuPage County Fair


Studies voice, violin, viola, jazz bass, and tuba in high school and sings in church choir at the First Congregationalist Church where his mother is choir director


As concertmaster of his high school orchestra, dates principal cellist Charlotte Slack


Earns bachelor’s and master’s of music education degrees at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa


Marries Charlotte Slack

First Jobs


Joins Fritz Reiner’s newly formed Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus, directed by Margaret Hillis; begins voice over work singing on commercials (which he continues for many years)


Studies voice with Hermanus Baer at Northwestern University


​Becomes an apprentice artist at Santa Fe Opera


​Son Eric is born


Spends summers at Tanglewood in Boris Goldovsky’s opera workshop


Signs with Herbert Barrett Management (still with same management, now called Barrett Vantage Artists)


Professional opera debut in Boris Goldovsky Opera Company (Masetto in Don Giovanni); tours for five years with the company, traveling more than 100,000 miles and singing more than 300 performances of a dozen operas



Wins Ford Foundation prize, which leads to debuts in the early 1960s with regional opera companies, such as Baltimore (Andrea Chenier), Cincinnati (Il Trovatore), Houston (Pagliacci), Pittsburgh (Pagliacci), and San Antonio (Faust)


Sings Carmina Burana at Chicago’s Grant Park Festival, conducted by Julius Rudel

October 18, 1964

New York City Opera debut Faust (Valentin, opposite Norman Treigle as Mephistopheles)

Dec 22, 1965

Metropolitan Opera debut in Faust (Valentin) at old Met (also Caballé’s debut); from 1965 to 1997 Sherrill is a principal artist at the Met, singing 652 performances, and honored with 16 new productions, seven opening nights, and ten national telecasts


​Daughter, Erin, is born

October 20, 1966

Sings for the first time at the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center (Valentin in Faust)


Creates the role of Adam Brant in Martin David Levy’s Mourning Becomes Electra at the Met, conducted by Zubin Mehta and staged by Zorba the Greek director Michael Cacoyannis



Performances at the Met as the Miller in Luisa Miller (with Montserrat Caballé and Richard Tucker) catapult Sherrill to international stardom


Wins his first Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording (RCA’s Così fan tutte with Leontyne Price, Judith Raskin, Tatiana Troyanos, George Shirley, Ezio Flagello, and the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf)


Marries Nancy Stokes


Sherrill’s beloved mother, Thelma, succumbs to cancer; Sherrill conducts Mendelssohn’s Elijah at home in Illinois in her honor


European debut at the Vienna State Opera in title role of Verdi’s Macbeth (under Karl Böhm, with Christa Ludwig, Karl Ridderbusch)


Lyric Opera of Chicago debut Don Carlo (Posa)


Covent Garden debut Un ballo in maschera (Renato)


Wins his second Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording (RCA’s Aida with Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, Plácido Domingo, Ruggero Raimondi, and the London Symphony Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf)


Son Shawn is born



Wins his third Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording (RCA’s La bohème with Montserrat Caballé, Judith Blegen, Plácido Domingo, Ruggero Raimondi, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Georg Solti)


Writes, hosts, and sings for his film Homage to Verdi, shot on location in Italy, which takes the viewer through Verdi’s Italy


First appearance at the White House; performs at a State Dinner for the Prime Minister of Australia, Henry Kissinger, Shirley Temple Black, Gregory Peck, and other guests, hosted by President and Mrs. Gerald Ford


Sings at the Inauguration Day prayer service for President Jimmy Carter in 18° temperature, televised from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial


Sherrill’s father dies


Performs at the White House for a state dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan; first of many times for the 40th President



Appears as himself on Tony Randall’s TV show, Love, Sidney in the episode “Surprise Party”


Honored as a Commendatore of the Italian Republic


Sherrill Milnes: An All-Star Gala is filmed in East Berlin; introduced by Burt Lancaster, Sherrill’s collaborating artists include Mirella Freni, Placido Domingo, Julia Migenes-Johnson, Peter Schreier, and Jon Spong; available on DVD


Sherrill Milnes at Juilliard: An Opera Master Class video is released


Makes first appearance at the Kennedy Center Honors, singing duets with Carol Burnett as a tribute to honoree Beverly Sills, broadcast live on CBS-TV; subsequently participated in celebrations for honorees Jessye Norman, Victor Borge, Luciano Pavarotti, and Joan Sutherland

July 5, 1986

Performs in Central Park at the New York Philharmonic’s tribute to the 100th anniversary of Statue of Liberty, conducted by Zubin Mehta, and broadcast live on ABC-TV


Receives New York City’s Seal of Recognition for his contributions to the city’s cultural life from Mayor Ed Koch


Sings Fourth of July concert with the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich for more than half a million people in front of the Capitol on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.


December 22, 1990

Sherrill’s 25th anniversary at the Met is honored with a radio broadcast ceremony onstage during Andrea Chénier


Performs in the Met’s star-studded 25th Anniversary of the opening of the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, broadcast live on PBS-TV, and available on DVD


Organizes a benefit concert in Vienna’s famed St. Stephen’s Cathedral for the victims of the Bosnia-Herzegovina War


Honored by the French government with the Chevalier de l’Ordre Arts et des Lettres


New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani marries Sherrill and soprano Maria Zouves at City Hall (Dec. 19, 1996)


Performs in James Levine’s 25th Anniversary Gala at the Met, released by Deutsche Grammophon on DVD

March 22, 1997

Final performance at the Met in Aida (Amonasro); from 1965 to 1997 Sherrill sang 652 performances as a principal artist at the Met, and was honored with 16 new productions, seven opening nights, and ten national telecasts


Sings American premiere of George Antheil’s opera Transatlantic with Minnesota Opera (Ajax)


May 27, 1998

Makes conducting debut in Carnegie Hall with the Brooklyn Philharmonic and baritone Mark Delevan in the title role; the work is his mother’s favorite oratorio: Mendelssohn’s Elijah


Schirmer Books publishes his memoir, American Aria: From Farm Boy to Opera Star


Sherrill is invited to judge for the first time at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition


Son Theophilos (Theo) Zouves Milnes is born


Founds VOICExperience Foundation with soprano Maria Zouves, a non-profit organization that trains and mentors singers and builds audiences for the vocal arts


Joins the faculty at Northwestern University as the John Evans Distinguished Professor of Music


Makes operatic conducting debut: Aida with Memphis Opera



Sherrill is inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston, which was started by President John Adams


Amadeus Press publishes second edition of his memoir, updated as American Aria: Encore


Receives Opera News Award for Distinguished Achievement


Honored with membership in the Lincoln Academy, the highest award by State of Illinois


Founds the Savannah VOICE Festival with soprano Maria Zouves, as a companion to VOICExperience, bringing classical vocal excellence to the Savannah, Georgia area through concerts, fully staged operas, educational presentations and community outreach

February 2015

Opera Tampa honors Sherrill with Anton Coppola Excellence in the Arts Award

December 22, 2015

50th Anniversary of Sherrill’s Met debut