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The touching, triumphant story of a young black man's journey from violence and despair to one of the world's most elite artistic institutions, as if The Blind Side were set in the world of opera.



The story

Ryan Speedo Green had a tough upbringing in southeastern Virginia: his family lived in a trailer park and later a bullet-riddled house across the street from drug dealers. His father was absent; his mother was volatile and violent.

At the age of twelve, Ryan was sent to Virginia's juvenile facility of last resort. He was placed in solitary confinement. He was uncontrollable, uncontainable, with little hope for the future. 

In 2011, at the age of twenty-four, Ryan won a nationwide competition hosted by New York's Metropolitan Opera, beating out 1,200 other talented singers. Today, he is a rising star performing major roles at the Met and Europe's most prestigious opera houses.

Sing for Your Life chronicles Ryan's suspenseful, racially charged and artistically intricate journey from solitary confinement to stardom. Daniel Bergner takes readers on Ryan's path toward redemption, introducing us to a cast of memorable characters—including the two teachers from his childhood who redirect his rage into music, and his long-lost father who finally reappears to hear Ryan sing. Bergner illuminates all that it takes—technically, creatively—to find and foster the beauty of the human voice. And Sing for Your Life sheds unique light on the enduring and complex realities of race in America.




A New York Times bestseller


A New York Times Notable Book

A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice


A Washington Post Notable Book


A Publishers Weekly Book of the Year

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year


A Library Journal Nonfiction Pick of September

As seen on CBS This Morning, NPR's Fresh Air,

and People Magazine

Critical Acclaim

New York Times Book Review 

"An incisive portrait... Provokes tears... This is a story that captures that most inexplicable thing—the human will itself."


Anne Midgette, The Washington Post

"Written with filmlike immediacy. ... This book is so good. ... And the key element—highlighted by the book's subtitle, 'A Story of Race, Music, and Family'—is Bergner's tackling of issues of race.  With sensitivity and candor, he shows the subtle and not-so-subtle challenges the opera world poses to singers of color. ... A vital, compelling and highly recommended book."

Pamela Paul, Editor, New York Times Book Review

"One of the most inspiring stories I've come across in a long time."

O, The Oprah Magazine (a top-25 pick for fall 2016)

"A true-life rags-to-Wagner story."

Trevor Noah, The Daily Show

"An amazing story, a beautiful story."

Terry Gross, Fresh Air

"A beautiful tribute to the power of good teachers."

Joy-Ann Reid, national correspondent for MSNBC and author of Fracture

"In Ryan Speedo Green we see a microcosm of America's own struggle to throw off the shackles of our troubled racial legacy. ... His story, expertly told by Daniel Bergner, is proof of the possibility of all of our redemption."

Peter Gelb, general manager, Metropolitan Opera

"A thrilling and authentic work of art, this is the unlikeliest of portraits of an artist who against-all-odds rises from the ashes of rural black poverty, a broken home, child abuse and the edges of madness to vault to the threshold of opera stardom."

Renée Fleming

"Sing for Your Life is absolutely riveting. Any rise to stardom in the daunting world of opera is bound to be dramatic, but Ryan Speedo Green's story is harrowing and rewarding in unexpected ways. From the first line, Daniel Bergner sets preconceptions about race, class, and 'high' culture against a breathtakingly candid narrative of a young man's struggle, not just to conquer the Olympic challenges of singing opera, but also to see beyond violence and adversity to a life in music."

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