It was an event to remember, held under the watchful eye of Ms. Dorothy Maynor, who is ever present through the mural in the lobby of the building in Harlem.
That reminds visitors that she was the visionary who imagined and made possible, the gorgeous 37,000-square-foot facility known as the Harlem School of the Arts.
Built at a time not too different than today when Black communities were disregarded, and the nation’s ills were felt most by the Black and indigenous populations, Ms. Maynor the activist artist wrote a powerful op-ed pointing to the disregard by those in power, toward the community she had adopted as her own.
She wrote, “The excesses, the woes of Harlem are taken to typify the woes of the Negro all over this nation. Every day, I hear and see and smell the signs of something rotten—not in Denmark, mind you—but right here in America.” Seeing the children of Harlem denied access to the transformative power of the arts, she didn’t weep about it or wring her hands— she did something about it. She found a way to put to use, the talent she had been gifted to teach Harlem’s children all about the beauty of the arts. She would eventually by two lots next to St. James Presbyterian, where her husband was pastor, and on that land she would build the organization’s home, on St. Nicholas Avenue between 141st and 145th Street. There are those who say that organizations like HSA should not bother owning their or building—well Ms. Maynor would disagree.
In 2019, a significant part of the building was renovated, thanks to musician and philanthropist Herb Alpert. The place that Ms. Maynor called The Gathering Place—a gift to the children and to the community of Harlem, in addition to being a superb after-school arts education and training facility is also quickly becoming the uptown version of 92 St. Y with a diverse schedule of programming.
Just recently, HSA in partnership with the Metropolitan Opera welcomed history-making composer Terence Blanchard, who was the first Black composer to open a Met season in its entire 138 years. Joining him in the House that Ms. Maynor built, was acclaimed soprano, Latonia Moore and young Walter Russell III, who this year earned the distinction of becoming the youngest Black male to win a Grammy for his role as Charles Baby in Terence Blanchard’s highly acclaimed Fire Shut Up in My Bones.
Mr. Blanchard who still pinches himself to make sure that being a part of the celebrated list of composers whose works have premiered at the Met is real, held a Masterclass for students of the historic Harlem School of the Arts. Among the very special guests in attendance was New York City Schools Chancellor David C. Banks, along with friends of the organization, families and community residents. Moderating the event was Rae de Vine, Education Manager, Program Operations for The Met.
The evening began with a performance by members of the HSA Jazz Band and the NYC All-City High School Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Paul Corn, taking on the Terence Blanchard composition “Mo’better Blues” from the Spike Lee film, followed by a critique of their performance from Terence Blanchard and a demonstration by the master trumpeter himself. The Dorothy Maynor Singers under the direction of Grant Anderson sang “Oh Boy” from Mr. Blanchard’s new opera, Champion based on the life of boxer Emile Alfonse Griffith. The evening culminated with a performance of “Seven Babies” from Champion, by the magnificent soprano, and one of the stars of the opera, Latonia Moore. No question, Ms. Maynor would have delighted at this evening — one that will not soon be forgotten, thanks to the Harlem School of the Arts’, leadership, the partnership with The Met and the superb representation from the All-City High School Music Program.
These initiatives are only possible when institutions like the Harlem School of the Arts are able to thrive thanks to the generosity of supporters and partners. As well, through fundraising events like the HSA Gala that will take place on May 1st at the Plaza Hotel.
For more information on the purchase of tickets and tables, visit www.hsanyc.org/gala23.
Photo credit: 1) Chancellor David C. Bank. 2) Terence Blanchard. 3) Terence Blanchard. 4) Group. 5) Latonia Moore. Courtesy of SMC Solutions and HSA.