UT Honors Mary Costa, Voice of Sleeping Beauty, With Honorary Degree

The university presented Knoxville native and entertainer Mary Costa with an honorary doctorate Monday at a special event held in her honor.

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Chancellor Cheek and Mary Costa.

A professional opera singer, Costa is best known for providing the voice of Princess Aurora in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

“Mary has had an extensive and varied career. Not only is she a musician and entertainer, but she’s known regionally and nationally as a cultural ambassador and an advocate for the arts, education, young musicians, and at-risk children,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek in presenting the Honorary Doctorate of Humane and Musical Letters from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Costa was surrounded by many of her lifelong friends at the event, held at the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center. School of Music Director Jeff Pappas nominated Costa for the honorary degree in 2013. Costa was scheduled to receive the honor at a previous commencement ceremony but was unable to attend.

“I feel like this is the crowning touch to my career and to my life, because I am one true Tennessean,” she said in accepting the degree.

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Chancellor Cheek, Costa, School of Music Director Jeff Pappas, and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Theresa Lee.

Costa has performed in more than forty operas, four films, and numerous television programs. She has shared the stage with legendary entertainers that include Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Jack Benny.

But it was early in her career, while she was singing and doing commercials on the radio, that Walt Disney discovered her and cast her as Princess Aurora in the 1958 film Sleeping Beauty.

Costa performed professionally for thirty-eight years. She returned to Knoxville in the early 1980s to care for her mother. At Monday’s event, Costa reflected on her career and the influence of family and friends on her life.

“I have worn all of the beautiful clothes and the diamonds and the tiaras and everything in my career and I enjoyed every moment. But again I tell you that I am a true Tennessean and I don’t know when I have ever felt as royal. Thank you so much for this.”

Costa has been honored extensively for her artistic contributions. In 1999, she was named a Disney Legend for her contributions to the Walt Disney Company. The Metropolitan Opera Guild honored Costa in 2001 with the Distinguished Verdi Performance of the Twentieth Century Award.

President George W. Bush appointed her to the National Council on the Arts, on which she served from 2003 to 2007. Costa has spoken at schools and colleges nationwide and has served as an ambassador for Childhelp, a national nonprofit group that aids victims of child abuse and neglect.

Costa joins an elite group of seven UT honorees. The other recipients to receive this distinction are statesman Howard H. Baker Jr., singer Dolly Parton, former vice president Al Gore, businessman Charles O. “Chad” Holliday, journalist and civil liberties advocate John Seigenthaler, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Noble Wilford.

C O N T A C T:

Karen Simsen (865-974-5186, ksimsen@utk.edu)