Sylvia McNair was born in Mansfield, Ohio, the daughter of George and Marilou McNair. As a youth, she studied violin. She originally enrolled in the undergraduate music program at Wheaton (Ill.) College as a violin major, but was encouraged by a violin instructor there to study voice as well. She commenced vocal studies at Wheaton with Margarita Evans, and finding herself more suited to singing, discontinued violin as her major. She earned a Bachelor of Music degree in 1978 from Wheaton and subsequently a Master of Music with Distinction in 1983 from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where she studied voice with Virginia MacWatters, John Wustman, and Virginia Zeani.

McNair made her professional concert debut in 1980 with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Her operatic debut, in 1982, was as Sandrina in Haydn's L'infedeltà delusa with the Mostly Mozart Festival. She appeared regularly at the Vienna State Opera, the Salzburg FestivalRoyal Opera House at Covent Garden, the Santa Fe Opera, the San Francisco Opera, and at the Metropolitan Opera, and has soloed with many major European and American orchestras.

In the early 2000s, McNair changed the focus of her singing career to the American Songbook. In this genre she has achieved considerable critical acclaim and commercial success.

From 2006 to 2016, McNair was part of the voice faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, her alma mater. She taught English diction (IPA), opera workshop, and private voice lessons. 

From 2010 to 2019, McNair has served as a judge and mentor for the Songbook Academy, a summer intensive for high school students operated by the Great American Songbook Foundation and founded by Michael Feinstein.

Please visit SylviaMcNair.com

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