David Livingstone Tigner discovered he had perfect pitch as a child plunking out a Johann Sebastian Bach prelude by ear on a broken piano at his family's Sebastopol home.
Tigner became a renowned bass-baritone vocalist, performing extensively with the San Francisco Symphony and on stages from New York City to London.
But Tigner's legacy perhaps rests with his students, a diverse group of professional singers as well as children he taught for more than 30 years at UC Berkeley's Young Musicians Program for musically gifted youth from poor families.
"They were next to his heart because he demanded a lot of them," said his sister, Linda Tigner-Weekes of Simi Valley.
Tigner died Tuesday of renal and congestive heart failure at a San Francisco dialysis clinic near his Ingleside neighborhood apartment. He was 61.
Tigner was born May 28, 1951, in Santa Rosa to Joseph and Mary Tigner, growing up on Green Hill Road surrounded by cherry, plum and apple trees in a small home with an outhouse.
His father owned Golden House Cleaning Service.
"They never took vacations, they never got new cars," Tigner-Weekes said of their parents. "They made sure we were educated and exposed us to music."
Singing helped Tigner overcome a stutter as a young child, she said.
Tigner attended Redwood Adventist Academy in Santa Rosa until the 10th grade, and he began serious music study during his junior year at Rio Lindo Adventist Academy in Healdsburg.
He joined the San Francisco Opera in 1974 after two years studying music at Pacific Union College in Angwin.
Tigner performed widely and was known for his solo oratorios from Giuseppe Verdi's "Messa da Requiem" and George Frideric Handel's "Messiah."
He performed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's concert arias with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1989 and Verdi's "Requiem" at Carnegie Hall in 1993.
An African-American opera singer in a field with few ethnic stars, Tigner championed other singers of color and devoted three decades to teaching disadvantaged youth.
He started each lesson making sure his students were fed, his sister said.
"He changed their lives for the better," Tigner-Weekes said.
Tigner had an encyclopedic knowledge of music that spanned from operatic masterworks to African-American spirituals. He made sure his students learned both.
Tigner was deeply religious and sang at churches throughout the Bay Area and in Southern California where his sisters live.
Tigner performed until 2002 when his health began to decline, but he continued teaching until about a month ago.
"Even though he had a great voice, he probably was an even greater teacher," Tigner-Weekes said. "He passed that passion for music to his students."
In addition to his sister, Tigner is survived by brothers Joseph Tigner, Jr. of Vallejo and Johnathan Tigner of Fontana and sister Lois Saunders of Glendale.
His family held a memorial service in Sebastopol.
Memorial donations may be made in Tigner's name to the Redwood Adventist Academy, 385 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa.