Betty Allen, mezzo-soprano, well known for key roles in opera and oratorio and now President of HSA, was Executive Director of The Harlem School of the Arts and chair of the Voice Department since the retirement of its founder, Dorothy Maynor, in 1979. The School offers instruction in music, dance, drama, and the visual arts to over 1,500 students annually from the New York metropolitan area.
Miss Allen is a member of the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, the Curtis Institute of Music, and was on the faculty of the North Carolina School of the Arts from 1978-1987. She serves on the Board of Directors and Executive Committees of Carnegie Hall and the U.S. Committee for UNICEF. She is also a trustee of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, The National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, the Arts and Business Council, the Manhattan School of Music, the Symphony Orchestra of the N.Y.C. Housing Authority, the Oratorio Society, InterSchools Orchestras, Children’s Storefront, and Theatre Development Fund. She serves as Chairperson of the Artistic Policy Committee at Carnegie Hall and the Education Committee at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and is Co-Chair of the Harlem Advocacy Coalition. She is also a member of the Schomburg Commission, the N.Y.C. Advisory Committee for Cultural Affairs and The New York City Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution.
Betty Allen began her career as a student at Wilberforce University, and later studied at the Hartford School of Music.
She has appeared as soloist with symphony orchestras and leading conductors including Bernstein, Boulez, Casals, de Waart, Dorati, Kertesz, Kubelik, Leinsdorf, Maazel, Martinon, Munch, Ormandy, Ozawa, Pritchard, Solti, Steinberg and Stokowski. She is especially well-known for her performances in Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts in which she appeared in 1952, and the ANTA Theater’s 1973 mini-Met production of the same and all major productions until 1982.
Apart from her symphonic appearances, Miss Allen was an active recitalist and did many major tours of Europe, North Africa, the Caribbean, East, Canada, the United States, South America and the Far East. She made her New York recital debut at Town Hall in 1958, followed by appearances in London, England; the Hague, Netherlands; Oslo, Norway; Berlin, Germany, and Montreal, Canada.
In 1964, she made her formal opera debut at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She made her North American opera debut with San Francisco Opera in 1966, Canadian Opera and Bellas Artes in Mexico City debuts in 1971, New York City Opera debut in 1973, and Metropolitan Opera’s mini-Met in 1974.
Since 1967, Miss Allen has made regular appearances at the Marlboro Music Festival and the Casals Music Festival.
She has also appeared with the Santa Fe Opera and The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, at the Ravinia, Saratoga and Tanglewood Festivals, the Cincinnati May Festival and the Caramoor Music Festival.
Betty Allen has won awards from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Music Fund, the John Hay Whitney and Ford Foundations, as well as the Marian Anderson Award. She is an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Wittenberg University, an Honorary Doctor of Music from Union College and an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Brooklyn College and Adelphi University. In 1988, Miss Allen was the recipient of numerous awards including: The Exceptional Achievement Award from the Women’s Project and Productions, given to “women whose achievements have helped to inspire all women”; the American Eagle Award from the National Music Council, which pays tribute to distinguished musicians; and the first ever ISO Award (InterSchools Orchestras), presented by the violinist Isaac Stern, for her “commitment to the education and enrichment of the lives of children through music and the arts.” In 1989 she was named Philadelphia National Bank Distinguished Artist of the Year and was presented the American Composers’ Alliance Laurel Leaf Award. This award is given yearly to individuals and organizations in recognition of “distinguished and encouraging American Music.” In 1992, she was awarded with the Concert Artists’ Guild Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts.
Ms. Allen was the first American to teach a master class for voice students at Rimsky-Korsakov
Conservatory in Leningrad, Soviet Union, in September 1989. She was invited to take twenty-three of the most promising music students to Leningrad at the invitation of the Leningrad City Council Cultural Board. They
performed two concerts and appeared on two TV broadcasts.
The trip initiated the first Music Cultural Exchange Program between students of the Harlem School of the Arts in New York City and students in Leningrad, Soviet Union.
In 1989, Ms. Allen was the judge for many vocal competitions such as the Metropolitan Opera Regionals (in California, Boston, and Puerto Rico), the Young Concert Artists, Oratorio Society, Canadian Women’s Club, National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, and the International Vocal Competition of S’Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, in August and September 1989.
Betty Allen married Ritten Edward Lee III in 1953. They have two children, Anthony, Edward and Juliana Catherine, and live in Harlem, an old and historic district.