Despite Duncan’s critical acclaim and world-class talent, racism was the order of the day and many theaters refused to sell tickets to Black patrons where Porgy and Bess toured. Duncan and the rest of his cast protested the segregation at Washington, D.C.’s National Theatre and refused to play until they offered tickets to all, which they eventually did.
In 1945, Duncan made his debut with the New York City Opera in the role of Tonio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci opera. It was also the first time a Black performer worked alongside a white cast, so Duncan is largely credited for desegregation within the genre.
Duncan continued to teach voice at Howard and across Washington, along with working at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Duncan taught the craft well into his 90’s before finally retiring. Duncan has won several awards, including recognition from the NAACP and the George Peabody Medal of Music, along with honors.
Duncan passed in his Washington home in 1998 at the age of 95. He and his wife, Gladys Duncan, had one son, Charles Duncan.