Isola Jones

Dr. Isola Jones is a Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano opera performer. She teaches Music at South Mountain Community College, and has been a spotlighted soloist at many SMCC concerts and events.

1999. Isola Jones Image provided by SMCC and South Phoenix Oral History Project

Dr. Isola Jones is a truly vibrant individual. She was raised in Chicago, IL. by her mother, a former musician turned assistant principal and her father, a transit supervisor. Jones credits her Roman Catholic upbringing for fostering her love for classical music and the community around it. Her unique aura and open mind definitely helped her achieve success.

Future Video Clip: 1:00-2:08 Isola talks about her parents ,childhood, and upbringing

Jones has spent her life learning and performing. She recalls that her childhood was “unorthodox, especially for an African American woman.” Living in Chicago in the mid-twentieth century, Jones didn’t know a lot of other kids whose parents were both college graduates. She took a special interest in music at a young age, and at the age of four began learning to read and sing in Latin as well as English. She may not have known it at the time, but her private singing and piano lessons were helping to make her a trailblazer for artists of color, like herself.

Jones’ love for classical music expanded as she grew older, and her skill along with her incredible range led her to join a professional chorus. At this time, Jones was discovered by local maestro while performing a solo with the Chicago Symphony Chorus. She was invited to do a production of “ The Flying Dutchman” with the Cleveland Orchestra. The performance won a Grammy for “Best Opera Recording” in

Jones described her mindset at the time as “praying my way through performances.” She found strength in her faith in God and did her absolute best while taking on new roles and overcoming some growing pains, especially with her long-time agent/teacher. In 1975, she received an offer to audition to perform in a James Levine production at the Metropolitan Opera. Jones initially refused, fearful that her skills were not up to the task.

Future Video Clip: 6:20-7:51- Isola’s career begins, Invitation to audition for the MET, Career begins to take off.
6:20 to 7:51

Jones ultimately took the risk to break with her agent, which left her in a vulnerable position. She rebounded by putting her efforts into improving her craft. When she received a second request to audition from the MET, she knew she couldn’t turn it down. The pressure she felt during the audition process was immense. After her audition, one of the prominent instructors offered Jones some tips on how she could improve and told her he’d call her in a few days. The call never came.

Jones, believing the opportunity was lost, later received a call offering her what she described as a “grocery list” of roles. This would be the opportunity that sent Dr. Jones’s career to new heights. Dr. Isola Jones paved the way for young colored voices in the classical music community.

In 1989, Jones remarried and relocated to Arizona. For the first few years, she commuted to New York to continue performing, but she missed Arizona when she was out of town. That same year, she began teaching voice lessons at South Mountain Community College. At SMCC, Jones trains students, launched the Arizona Opera Company, and performed annually at the holiday Messiah concert.

Future Video Clip: 40:00-43:00 Isola talks about her on-campus opera company at SMCC

Jones ends with a message to her students, “If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.”

NarratorIsola Jones
Place of OriginChicago, Illinois
Place of ResidenceLaveen, Arizona
OccupationOpera Performer
Professor of Music
Years Active in South Phoenix1989 –
Recording Duration01:11:14
DateSpring 2020
LocationSouth Mountain Community Library
Interviewed ByStudent Researcher: Daniela Cota
Story Written ByStudent Writers: Miles Bower & Makayla Lovelace
Faculty Co-Writer: Summer Cherland