When Breanna Sinclairé took the mic on stage at the Castro Theater in San Francisco a few weeks ago and soared with a version of Gershwin’s Summertime, it was as if all the air in the vast hall had been channeled to its rising soprano, which shook the walls and the handful of observers present.
The shocked looks were nothing new for Sinclairé, a transgender artist whose life journey has been tied to the gift of song since she was a child in Baltimore, Maryland. She sang her first solo in a Baptist church at the age of five. But the real musical seed was planted when her grandmother took her to her first opera, Madame Butterfly.
“I grew up in a family of musicians,” Sinclairé said as she settled into one of the seats in the Castro Theater. “My grandmother was very immersed in classical music.”
Since her first forays into singing, Sinclairé has sung in concerts across the United States and beyond – and in 2015, she took to the field at Oakland A to become the first transgender person to sing the national anthem at of a Major League Baseball game.
“Music is part of me, Sinclairé said. “It’s my life.
Sinclairé’s personal journey took rough notes. She said that as a child she was abused by her father, who left the family when Sinclairé was young. Music became his refuge for troubled times.
Despite her love of opera, her mother sent her to a university in Canada in hopes that she would become a pastor. But she left to pursue her singing dreams at the prestigious Baltimore School of the Arts. From there, she enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts in Southern California. It was there that she made the transition – which she described as a difficult time.
“As a trans person, I think that’s the common theme in our community,” Sinclairé said. “We struggle a lot – we face a lot of discrimination, we face a lot of housing discrimination.”
Her musical trajectory was swept away in 2010 when she flew to New York to study with a vocal coach who then refused to work with her. Short of money – and of luck – Sinclairé spent three months homeless in the frenetic city.
Yet, once again, the music came to her rescue. She was in a grocery store – shoplifting, she recalls – when a man heard her humming and struck up a conversation. There, he wrote a check for Sinclairé to return to Cal Arts.
“He said, ‘Breanna, I want you to go to Cal Arts and I want you to finish your degree,'” Sinclaire recalled. “And I want you to text me your degree and I want to see you at the Met someday.”
After fulfilling her promise to graduate from Cal Arts, Sinclairé once again broke barriers by becoming the first trans woman of color to attend the opera program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where she earned her master’s degree.
Despite all the accolades and accomplishments, Sinclairé still finds challenges within the profession of her chosen musical genre.
“Being a black trans woman in the mainstream world can be very exhausting,” Sinclairé said. “Because there is very little confidence in my talent, so I have to work very hard.”
The pandemic threw a whole different set of wrenches into the cogs of Sinclairé’s career, just as it seemed like she was hitting her stride. Concerts and appearances have been relegated to the virtual world. Yet, she had the opportunity to travel to Toronto, Canada to appear in the opera movie, Bound. This summer, she will travel to the prestigious Berlin Opera Academy for a role in the opera Hansel and Gretel.
But first, she plans to attend San Francisco’s Pride Weekend, which has been canceled for in-person events for the past two years due to the pandemic.
“I think this is our first Pride together, besides being virtual,” she said. “So I really think it’s going to be an emotional experience for a lot of people.”
And emotion is what emerges every time Sinclairé sings – converting new fans with her voice and her incredible story.
“Not only is Breanna Sinclairé a unique talent on the world stage,” said Sinclairé’s publicist David Perry, “she is one of the bravest performers and people I have ever met.”
On the Castro Theater stage that day, Sinclairé followed Summertime with the soprano aria O Mio Babbino, for a few local merchants who munched hors d’oeuvres on the Castro Theater balcony.
She’s determined to use her voice to earn respect in the classical world – but is proud of what she’s already achieved as a trans woman of color forging her own path.
“Being who we are and authentic is the most beautiful thing,” she said. “It takes someone like us who is strong to really walk this journey.”