The black American mezzo-soprano, teacher, and administrator, Betty Allen, attended Wilberforce University from 1944 to 1946, the Hartford School of Music from 1950 to 1953, and the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood. Among her mentors were Sarah Peck More, Zinka Milanov, and Paul Ulanowsky.
Betty Allen made her New York City Opera debut in 1954 as Queenie in Showboat. She made her New York recital debut at Town Hall in 1958, followed by appearances in London, The Hague, Oslo, Montreal, and Berlin. In 1964 she made her formal opera debut at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She made her North American debut with San Francisco Opera in 1966, the Canadian Opera and Bellas Artes in Mexico City in 1971, New York City Opera debut in 1973, Metropolitan Opera in New York in February 1973 (as Commère in Four Saints in Three Acts during the company’s visit to Manhattan Forum), and Metropolitan Opera’s mini-Met in 1974. She sang at the New York City Opera from 1973 to 1975. Betty Alen also toured as a concert singer, and since 1967 has made regular appearances at the Marlboro and Casals Music Festivals, and has also appeared with the Santa Fe Opera and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and at Ravinia, Saratoga, Tanglewood, and the Cincinnati May and Caramoor music festivals.
Betty Allen has appeared as a soloist with symphony orchestras and leading conductors, including Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Pablo Casals, de Waart, Antal Doráti, Kertesz, Rafael Kubelík, Erich Leinsdorf, Lorin Maazel, Jean Martinon, Charles Munch, Eugene Ormandy, Seiji Ozawa, Pritchard, Georg Solti, Steinberg and Leopold Stokowski, among others. She is especially well known for her performance in Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts, in which she appeared in 1952, and the ANTA Theatre’s 1973 Mini-Met production of the same work and all major productions of it until 1982. Apart from her symphonic appearances, she is as active recitalist and has performed on many tours of Europe, North Africa, the Caribbean, Canada, the USA, South America, and the Far East. In 1966, she appeared at the Carmel Bach Festival under Sandor Salgo.
Known for key roles in opera and oratorio, Betty Allen has been a member of the voice faculty of Manhattan School of Music since 1969. She taught at the North Carolina School of Arts in Winston-Salem from 1978 to 1987. She was executive director from 1979 to 1992 and president from 1992 of the Harlem School of the Arts. Later she was President Emeritus of the Harlem School of the Arts. She gave master-classes at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia from 1987. She also serves on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Carnegie Hall, the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts, Manhattan School of Music, Arts and Business Council, American Arts Alliance, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Symphony Orchestra of the New York City Housing Authority, Independent School Orchestras, and the Children’s Storefront and Theatre Development Fund. She is co-chair of the Harlem Arts Advocacy Coalition and the Schomburg Commission and is a member of the New York City Advisory Committee for Cultural Affairs.
Betty Allen has won awards from Martha Baird Rockefeller Music Fund and the John Hay Whitney and Ford Foundation, as well as the Marian Anderson Award. In 1971 Betty Allen received as honorary doctorate of Humane Letters from Wittenberg University in Ohio, and in 1981, an honorary doctorate of music from Union College in Schenectady, New York. Other awards and honors include 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 ISO Award from Independent School 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 also was presented the American Composers’ Alliance Laurel Leaf Award. This award is given yearly to individuals and organizations in recognition of “distinguished achievement in fostering and encouraging American music.”
Betty Allen was the first American to teach a master-class for voice students at Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in St. Petersburg in the former Soviet Union in September 1989. She was invited to take twenty-three of the most promising music students to St. Petersburg at the invitation of their city council cultural board. They performed two concerts and appeared on two television broadcasts. The trip initiated the first music cultural exchange program between students of the Harlem School of the Arts in New York and the students of St. Petersburg.
Betty Allen has served as adjudicator 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 Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands.