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American countertenor Russell Keys Oberlin was born in Akron, Ohio on 11 October 1928. He studied at Juilliard (1948-51), was a founding member of Pro Musica Antiqua from 1952 and sang in Leonard Bernstein's 1955 recording of Handel's Messiah. He was the first widely recognised countertenor in the USA. His naturally high tenor voice allowed him to sing countertenor repertoire without using falsetto.
Oberlin retired when he was thirty-six to teach and lecture. He was professor of music at Hunter College in New York (1966-94) and was a senior Fulbright research scholar.
He died in New York City on 26 November 2016, aged eighty-eight.