The noted black American soprano and music educator, Dorothy Maynor, the daughter and granddaughter of Norfolk clergymen, was one of the most highly praised singers of the 1940ís and 1950ís. She had "a soaring, bell-like soprano capable of exquisite musical effects, supported by a sincere and ardent temperament," wrote Nicolas Slonimsky.
Dorothy Maynor began singing in her father's church, and from 1924 was educated from at the Hampton Institute, receiving B.S. in 1933. She began her career singing in various choirs, and in 1929 toured with the institutesís most famous chorus in Europe. After her graduation from Hampton in 1933, Maynor attended Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. In 1936, she moved to New York to study privately William Kamroth and John Alan Haughton and led a church choir in Brooklyn.
At the 1939 Berkshire Festival in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, Dorothy Maynor sang for Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He arranged for her to give a performance at a picnic, which led to a rave review in The New York Times.
"Her voice is a miracle," the conductor declared, "a musical revelation that the world must hear." Most of the critics echoed Koussevitzky's praise after Maynor's New York debut in November 1939, and she was soon "a fixture in the elite group of black artists that included [Marian] Anderson, Roland Hayes and Paul Robeson," Rosalyn M. Story wrote in "And So I Sing: African-American Divas of Opera and Concert." She nonetheless learned arias from dozens of operas and featured them in her concerts. One, Depuis le jour, from Charpentier's Louise, became her signature piece, guaranteed to provoke standing ovations. At the peak of her career, she performed with most of the major American orchestras and was one of the most sought-after and highly paid singers in the concert world. Her recordings were bestsellers and she was regularly heard on popular radio shows.
In 1942, Dorothy Maynor married the Rev. Shelby Rooks, pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem. When her husband became ill, she retired from performing to care for him and became active in church affairs. She was soon planning a venture that would resonate as powerfully as her singing: founding a school for young black artists. The Harlem School of the Arts began in 1963 with Maynor teaching piano to 12 youngsters in a church annex. By 1979, when she retired from direction of the school, it occupied a $2 million, 37,000-square-foot facility and enrolled more than 1,000 students in college preparatory programs in performing and visual arts.
In 1975, Dorothy Maynor, never able to sing at New York's Metropolitan Opera, became the first African-American to join its board of directors. She spent her last years out of the limelight, living with her husband in a small town in Pennsylvania.