On Saturday, 6th May, 2023, the world will witness the crowning of Charles III at Westminster Abbey, in London.

South African Pretty Yende, is one of three soloists to perform at the ceremony, making her the first African to be invited to perform solo at a British coronation.

“I was overwhelmed, shocked, happy. All the emotions were just rushing in,” she said, remembering the invitation.

But given the 38-year-old’s remarkable journey, it’s surprising that she was surprised at all.

“Like something supernatural”

The story of how Yende reached the pinnacle of her career is an inspirational one as her most direct link to music was church hymns.

Yende says that as a shy child, she always wanted to please her family. When her grandmother first invited her to sing in public, she knew how uncomfortable it would be to stand in front of people, but she obliged. It became the first step on the road to performing in front of massive audiences.

Yende never considered a career in music — she intended to study accountancy at university. Then she saw opera for the first time on TV at the age of 16. “Hearing this music and the power of it, sounded like something supernatural. I did not believe human beings could do it,” she recalled.

“I remember recording it and imitating it,” she said. “I would play the recording the whole day. My gosh, my family were in trouble, because I wouldn’t stop practicing and shouting.”

Her parents allowed her to study music at university on the condition that she would switch back to an accountancy degree if singing didn’t work out.

She started making a name for herself in South Africa while still a student at the University of Cape Town, and in 2011, Yende graduated from the Young Artists program at the Accademia at the Teatro alla Scala, in Milan, Italy, and began entering opera competitions.

“The very first opera competition that I did was in Vienna, Austria, where I won everything possible,” she remembered. “They called my name so many times I was like, ‘No, God please let this one go to someone else.’ I felt unworthy … hearing the kind of finesse that my peers had.

The invite to the coronation is a rare honor. “It’s historic, it’s generational,” she said.

She will perform “Sacred Fire,” a new work by classical and film composer Sarah Class that Buckingham Palace has said “evokes a bridge between the angelic and human realms” with its imagery from the Bible.

For the new King, this is a defining moment: a historic spectacle, but also an opportunity to reinforce the Crown’s relationship with the British people and the Commonwealth.

There has been opposition from some who argue that someone from one of Britain’s former colonies should not be singing at the coronation, but Yende is unperturbed.

The program will also feature performances from bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and baritone Roderick Williams.

Story: Christy Dung