By Char McCargo Bah
Lauretta Dorsey Young was the voice heard ’round the world. She became a lyric soprano opera singer, performing for two former presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, and in many countries across the globe. However, her singing career started here in Alexandria when she was just 4 years old singing in her church choir.
Young’s parents, siblings, grandparents and uncles lived in a multi-family household at 318 S. Columbus St. As a child in the 1940s, Young most likely attended Lyles Crouch Elementary School because it opened its doors in 1935 for colored children who were living on the south side of Alexandria. When Young was 9 years old, her parents moved to Baltimore, Maryland at 436 East 23rd St. Her father found a job as a schoolteacher at P.S. 101, an elementary school.
In Baltimore, Young continued her interest in singing. She became a member of Saint Ann Roman Catholic Church and joined the choir. Young also attended the public schools in Baltimore, eventually graduating from Eastern High School. After high school, she pursued a career in singing. She enrolled in the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore where she received a bachelor’s degree in 1963 at the school’s 95th graduation ceremony.
Young received a graduate scholarship to the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York to study voice and opera theatre under the famous Sergius Kagen, an American pianist, composer, music editor and voice teacher. Florence Page Kimball, who was an American soprano, and a celebrated voice teacher at the Juilliard School, also taught Young and many others.
With the impressive training she received from the Peabody Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard School of Music, Young took her childhood passion and made it into a career as a lyric soprano opera singer. She entered many singing contests and was the winner of national and international competitions including at the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions, Lincoln Center, New York; International Musikwettbewerbe, Munich, Germany; Silver Medalists at Concours International de Chant, Toulouse, France and Tchaikovsky International Competition, Moscow, Russia.
Those competitions opened many doors for Young. In 1970, she sang in a concert version of “Porgy and Bess” at Baltimore’s Lyric with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She sang with noted conductors, including Leonard Bernstein, Antal Dorati, Sergiu Commissiona and Rei Miedel. In her professional opera debut she was Susanna in the Boston Opera Company’s performance of “Le Nozze di Figaro.” She sang the role of Drusilla in “La Corovatione di Papea” for the Washington Opera at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Although her career took her all over the world, Young never forgot her birthplace. In 1970, prior to going to the 16th International Tchaikovsky Competition, she chose Alexandria as the place to perform her last concert before departing for a United States Information Agency sponsored trip to Moscow. The event took place on April 19, 1970 at Francis Hammond High School in Alexandria.
Young’s accomplishments are many. After her long career traveling the world and performing on several continents, she returned to the United States as a music and voice teacher at the Baltimore School of Arts. A widow, she raised three daughters, Rehya, Heather and Andrea.
She was one of the faculty members at the Baltimore School of Arts where she taught for many years until she retired. After retirement, Young’s health began to deteriorate, and on Aug. 5, 2020, she passed away.
Lauretta Dorsey Young was born on Sept. 30, 1942 as Lauretta Irene Mildred Dorsey to William Randolph Dorsey and Lauretta Johnson Dorsey in Alexandria. Her father was a Baltimore City schoolteacher; her mother was a former singer who performed with big bands in the 1930s and was a seamstress. Young’s family has ties to Alexandria going back to the Civil War.
Young was an outstanding individual with exceptional musical talents. She broke many racial barriers as an African American opera singer, who represented herself, Alexandria, her country and the world. She never forgot her birthplace, and we should never forget her.
The author is a freelance writer, independent historian, genealogist and a Living Legend of Alexandria. You can visit her blog for more about “The Other Alexandria.”