Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Music Break - Dorothy Maynor

Today is the birthday of the amazingly talented Dorothy Maynor, American soprano, concert singer, and the founder of the Harlem School of the Arts.

Dorothy was born in 1910. Her father, Reverend J. Mainor, was a local African-American Methodist minister in Norfolk, Virginia. She was a student at the Hampton Institute where she studied under R. Nathaniel Dett, one of the most successful black composers of the time, recognized for his blending of folk songs and spirituals with choral and piano compositions. She graduated from the Institute in 1933, and continued her education at the Westminster Choir School in Princeton, New Jersey, where she had won a four year scholarship.

During a  performance at the Berkshire Festival in 1939, she caught the attention of Sergei Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was so impressed by her, he arranged for her to sing at The Town Hall in New York City on December 9, 1939. As a result of this performance, she was awarded the Town Hall Endowment Series Award for 1940. Now living in New York, she took lessons by renown voice instructors William Clamroth and John Alan Haughton.

Racist policies restricted performers of color from singing in opera houses. Despite this, Maynor was a highly sought-after performer and toured extensively, traveling around the United States, Europe, and Latin America, performing in concert halls and on the radio.

In 1964 she founded the Harlem School of the Arts to enable the children of Harlem to take classes in music, ballet, modern dance, drama and art for a minimal fee, and loaned or rented instruments to those who needed them.

"What I dream of is changing the image held by the children. We've made them believe everything beautiful is outside the community. We would like them to make beauty in our community."

Under her directorship the school grew exponentially, from 20 students to 1,000 by the time she retired in 1979. She raised more than $2 million to build a new facility for the school in 1977.

In 1975, after having been prevented from performing in many of the opera houses around the country, she became the first African-American on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Opera.

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Eliza Ann Grier - the first black woman to receive a MD in Georgia
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