Grace Bumbry was born i St. Louis, Missouri, in 1937. At the age of eleven, she joined the Union Memorial Methodist Church's Choir. She studied singing at colleges in Boston and Evanston and became one of Lotte Lehmann's students at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California, in 1955. She still pursues her concert career and is also active in the international civil rights movement and charity organisations, having been appointed as UNESCO's Goodwill Ambassador in 1991.
Meeting Lotte Lehmann (1888 - 1976) changed Grace Bumbry's life. In 1955, the 18-year-old Bumbry came to learn from the exceptional Strauss interpreter and passionate singer at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. Lehmann, respectfully addressed by her students as "Madame Lehmann", took the young mezzo-soprano under her wings for three years and was very active in promoting Bumbry's career. Bumbry arranged her Paris recital in memory of her teacher. It included songs which she had studied with Lotte Lehmann and songs that Lehmann enjoyed hearing her sing.