Thursday, June 25, 2009

Death of a Down to Earth Diva

I will never forget the day that JD Parran brought me to meet Betty Allen. JD was doing his best to get me onto the faculty at the Harlem School for the Arts. Even though Betty had been nudged out of her upstairs office by the young HSA Director of the moment, she maintained a deep cellular connection with the school and it's community. After all, it was her passion that birthed and raised up HSA from modest beginnings in a church basement.

"So, you want to teach here?" Even sitting in the corner of the music library that she had taken over, Betty was nothing if not regal. We talked for a half hour about music and what we loved, what was important to share with children. Betty gave me her blessing.

I used to stay at school late some evenings to watch Betty teach her weekly opera workshop. She was so dynamic, so generous with her time and spirit. Betty may have been a diva, but Betty was always real.

I shall miss you Miss Allen. Truly.

Portrait of Betty Allen, 1958 by Carl van Vechten

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