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Lauretta Dorsey Young, former opera singer and longtime voice teacher at Baltimore School for the Arts, dies

Lauretta Dorsey Young, pictured in January 1968, performed with the Boston Lyric Opera Company, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Washington Opera.
Lauretta Dorsey Young, pictured in January 1968, performed with the Boston Lyric Opera Company, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Washington Opera. (Handout/HANDOUT)

Lauretta Dorsey Young, who taught for decades at the Baltimore School for the Arts and earlier performed with leading opera companies, died of complications from Parkinson’s disease and dementia Aug. 5 at Stella Maris Hospice. The former Hamilton resident was 77.

Born in Alexandria, Virginia, she was the daughter of William Randolph Dorsey, a Baltimore City schoolteacher, and his wife, Lauretta Johnson Dorsey, a singer who performed with big bands and was a seamstress.

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She grew up on East 23rd Street near Greenmount Avenue and was a member of St. Ann Roman Catholic Church.

“My mother began singing in the church choir as a 4-year-old,” said her daughter, Rehya Young Citroni of Tyrone, Georgia.

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A graduate of Eastern High School, she earned a degree at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, won a scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music in New York, and studied with Florence Page Kimball and Sergius Kagen.

“She often told me how she followed the soprano Leontyne Price at lessons with [Ms.] Kimball in New York,” said Robert Cantrell, a music teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Ms. Young was a winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s National Auditions and a Munich competition, the Musikwettbewerbe.

She was awarded a silver medal at a vocal competition in Toulouse, France, and was the State Department’s entry into the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow.

Ms. Young made her debut as Susanna in “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Boston Lyric Opera Company under its director, Sarah Caldwell. In 1970 she sang in a concert version of “Porgy and Bess” at Baltimore’s Lyric with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She also performed with the Washington Opera and other musical companies.

“As a young woman she faced a lot of pressure in New York at that time,” her daughter said. “She took some time off and worked in a bank and then gradually resumed her singing and worked alongside her accompanist, Julius Tilghman.”

After moving to Columbia in the 1970s she founded the Columbia Children’s Choir and taught at Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

She joined the faculty of the Baltimore School for the Arts shortly after the school opened.

Soprano Arielle Armstrong, left, a senior at Baltimore School for the Arts, has a singing lesson with teacher Lauretta Dorsey Young in September 2009.
Soprano Arielle Armstrong, left, a senior at Baltimore School for the Arts, has a singing lesson with teacher Lauretta Dorsey Young in September 2009. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

“When I came here, she was already the head honcho in the school’s voice department,” Mr. Cantrell said. “She took me under her wing and helped me develop a teaching style. We were a good team for 25 years.”

Ms. Young worked closely with her students and accompanied them on trips to New York City where they heard performances of the Metropolitan Opera.

“Her students were inspired by her and responded to her. They always listened closely,” Mr. Cantrell said. “With her guidance, our students became quite good singers and she insisted the sopranos had good high notes.”

Mr. Cantrell said she participated in faculty recitals.

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“She would sing me under the table,” he said.

He described her as “very down to earth and grounded.”

He also said, “She loved people and was never a diva.”

Ms. Young was featured in a 1995 Sun story about a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

She conducted individual auditions that resulted in a choir of 30 children for a touring production of the show. Ms. Young auditioned numerous children and taught them to pace themselves for a theater performance, and how to take care of their voices.

“My mother was the kind of teacher who when she found a student was rebellious or was not studying, she would bring the student home,” her daughter said. “She would talk and try to find what was the matter. Sometimes they would come for an afternoon and be there the next morning. She was very much there for her students.”

Ms. Young retired from the Baltimore School for the Arts faculty several years ago. She enjoyed baking banana bread and spending time with her grandchildren.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include two other daughters, Heather Byrne of Nottingham and Andrea Young of Baltimore; two brothers, Paul Dorsey of Baltimore and Rodney Dorsey of Temple Hills; and three grandchildren.

A private family memorial service will be held.

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