Keith Jameson '90

Keith Jameson describes himself as a small-town boy who loves sweet tea and warm Southern nights in his hometown of Greenwood, South Carolina. However, one glance at him as the smuggler Remendado in Bizet's Carmen, and you'd swear he had never eaten grits in his entire life. Jameson has the ability to transform himself into almost any role and has become a bit of a regular at the Met, previously singing Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi and performing in War and Peace for his debut. "As an American classical singer, performing at the Met is a dream—a goal to work towards," he says. "It is exciting, thrilling and incredibly humbling to be a part such amazing performances."

Keith Jameson Music Alumni Furman UniversityBut in the same breath that Jameson tells of his upcoming role as Goro in Madama Butterfly with The Santa Fe Opera, he's also reminiscing about his high school performance in the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with his church choir. In fact, according to Jameson, his Southern roots have laid the foundation for his love of—and extreme success with—opera.

After his church choir director recommended that Jameson take voice lessons from Ramon Kyser, a professor of voice at Furman at the time, Jameson met with him every other Saturday for the next two years. Therefore, when it came time to choose a college, the decision was easy. "Dr. Kyser was an incredible voice teacher and friend, and he gave me a solid foundation of technique. Going to Furman, then, just seemed natural," he says.

During his time at Furman, Jameson realized it was specifically opera that he was meant to pursue. One evening as he watched the televised broadcast of Dialogues of the Carmelites, a light bulb went off. "The production was simple, yet highly effective, and it zeroed in on the characters, situations and complex emotions of the time," he describes. "To this day, the opera still resonates tremendously with me."

While at Furman, though Jameson says his music classes were top-notch, it was his actual musical performances that benefited him the most. Jameson was a baritone, as well as a student conductor, for Furman Singers under the direction of Bing Vick. He also developed invaluable experience by participating in Opera Theater and giving student recitals. "My senior recital, tour to Russia with the Singers, and singing Gianni Schicchi and Gilbert and Sullivan opera scenes were all amazing experiences that I will always remember," says Jameson. "Mostly, though, friendships and colleagues that I made at Furman will stay with me my entire life. The experience that is Furman are the wonderful and terrific people you meet, become friends with and go through life with—those are the memories I truly cherish."

Jameson went on to receive his master's degree in conducting as well a doctorate in musical arts in vocal performance at the Eastman School of Music. Eventually, after training his voice to be a tenor, he starred in a variety of productions, ranging in roles from Nanki-Poo in The Mikado with the New York City Opera to Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw in Belgium to The Novice in Billy Budd with The Sante Fe Opera (where he is a returning principal artist).

However, no matter on what stage he performed or in what role he starred, Jameson never forgot his Southern roots. In 2007, he returned to Greenwood to begin the annual Greenwood Music Festival as a way to celebrate the community and music to which he feels a strong connection. But this isn't what you'd expect for a music festival in the South, as there's no string-plucking or drumstick-throwing. Instead, the Greenwood Music Festival is classical in nature. "Audiences can already find country, bluegrass, blues, music theater, and rock/folk music at festivals in the South," says Jameson. "I wanted to add a different element, so the Greenwood Music Festival gives audiences an opportunity to experience a variety of music within the classical arena." And according to Jameson, the festival is flourishing, even in this relatively small community. "Our audiences are growing each year, little by little, and I believe that there are people who appreciate quality music and events. Our operas are bringing in people who have never experienced opera before, and they are enjoying it!" Each festival has a theme that helps to showcase work within the classical arena, including opera, chamber music, classical sacred music, vocal and instrumental recital music, classic and independent films, and cabaret. This year's theme was a celebration of France, including a screening of the 1938 film Marie Antoinette, French chamber music and Gretry's 18th-century opera Zemire et Azor. The 2011 theme is "Roman Holiday" and will include Handel's opera Scipione and a special cabaret evening with Broadway star and Furman alum Nat Chandler '80.

Because Jameson eventually hopes to run an opera company, managing the Greenwood Music Festival has been a great way to get his feet wet. "Meeting people in Greenwood who came to the festival without much previous opera experience is exciting," he says. "To get them interested in a new genre of music is such a thrill."

Looking back, this big-city boy with small-town roots is quite surprised and thrilled at this stage in his life. "I actually thought early on that I would go into graphic design or architecture," he says with a laugh. "But music spoke to me and called me, and I found that my second home is the stage. I never dreamed that I would be a traveling opera singer and be able to make a living at it! I sometimes find myself asking, 'And this is my job?'"

Here's a look at a few of Jameson's performances.

  • Metropolitan Opera: Remendado in Carmen, Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi, War and Peace
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago: Beppe in I Pagliacci, Triquet in Eugene Onegin, Basilio in Le nozze di Figaro
  • Dallas Opera: Don Curzio in Le nozze di Figaro
  • English National Opera, London: Nanki-Poo in The Mikado
  • Opera Royal de Wallonie, Belgium: Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw
  • New York City Opera: Candide, Oronte in Handel's Alcina, Nanki-Poo in The Mikado, Tobias Ragg in Sweeney Todd
  • Santa Fe Opera: The Novice in Billy Budd, Bardolfo in Falstaff, Bob Boles in Peter Grimes, Pong in Turandot, Goro in Madama Butterfly, Clarin in Lewis Spratlan's Life is a Dream, title role in Albert Herring
  • Carnegie Hall: tenor soloist in Beethoven's Mass in C, Schubert's Mass in G, and Mozart's Coronation Mass

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