The remarkably versatile mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani studied voice at the Juilliard School of Music in New York with Sergius Kagen.
She made her debut in New York in 1958. Her international reputation was established when she sang the premiere of George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children in 1970 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. She has also sung the premieres of works by Peter Maxwell Davies (A stone litany; Black Pentecost), Richard Wernick (Visions of wonder and terror), William Schuman (In sweet music), and Elliott Carter (Syringa). Although best known for her singing of contemporary music, Jan DeGaetani sang a wide variety of music ranging from the medieval Play of Herod to songs of John Dowland, German lieder, French mélodies, and songs of Stephen Foster and Charles Ives.
During her career, DeGaetani appeared with most of the major English and American orchestras, usually in works by contemporary composers. Her regular appearances with the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble evoked many fine performances, including Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. She also appeared with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and with Speculum Musicae.
Always an intelligent performer, DeGaetani had a voice with great expressive range; she was one of the rare singers of contemporary music to garner not only critical praise, but also popularity with the general public. In 1973, she was appointed a professor of voice at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, where she remained on the faculty until her death. Among her students, the most outstanding is the soprano Dawn Upshaw. During the summers, she also taught at the Aspen Music Festival. She often gave master classes in conjunction with her recital tours in order to pass her love of contemporary music on to the next generation.