Alyne Dumas Lee (1903-1970)

Alyne Dumas Lee, November 16, 1953
Alyne Dumas Lee, November 16, 1953
Photo by Carl Van Vechten, Courtesy Beinecke Library (2018906)

Listen while you learn!

Hear a soundtrack specially chosen to enhance your learning about Alyne Dumas Lee (1903-1970)

Let it play in the background as you study and immerse yourself in this topic!

Lyric soprano soloist Alyne Dumas Lee was born on March 22, 1903, in Knoxville, Tennessee, to Joseph and Clora Dumas. She spent her childhood in Cincinnati, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois developing her musical abilities. At age eight, Lee was her local church’s organist, and by thirteen she had obtained a musical diploma and begun teaching piano.

Lee attended Oakwood Junior College in Alabama (now Oakwood University) in the early 1920s. When her mother died in 1922, she dropped out of school and taught piano. Later, she earned a Bachelor’s in Music from the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts in Michigan and received additional training from masters in New York City, Germany, and France. Lee married a singer and minister, John Frank Lee, and for years taught piano and directed her local church choir.

Lee made her major debut as a lyric soprano soloist when she performed Handel’s Messiah at Detroit Art Institute Lecture Hall on November 17, 1948. After a move to Chicago in 1949, Lee’s professional career was managed by concert promoter and manager Bertha Ott. In the summer of 1950, Lee was a co-winner, with Theodore Lettvin, of the Michaels Memorial Award, the first African American to receive the distinction. The awardees performed with William Steinberg and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on WGN radio on the first broadcast performance of the Ravinia Festival.

On October 26, 1952, Lee debuted at New York City’s Town Hall. The New York Herald Tribune exclaimed that “Alyne Dumas Lee’s performance is one of the most finished and exciting to be heard anywhere.” Critic Louis Biancolli wrote that “great voices are still few and far between. Miss Lee’s is one of the few.”

Over the next decade, Lee performed scores by Bach, Mozart, Handel, as well as Negro Spirituals, singing in four languages, in the great musical halls of Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles (California), London (UK), Paris, and Rome (Italy). Lee was accompanied in numerous performances by Leonard Bernstein, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Nicolai Malko, the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. She appeared on television and radio across the United States.

Reviews of Lee’s performances appeared in the New York TimesChicago TribuneWashington Post, and Los Angeles Times. Claudia Cassidy (Chicago Tribune) wrote that Lee has “one of the genuinely beautiful voices of our time.” “Miss Lee is doubtless a dramatic soprano whose breadth of utterance reaches far outside the recital hall into the operatic beyond,” stated Seymour Raven (Chicago Tribune). Julian T. Sullivan (Indianapolis Star) said that Lee’s “name belongs in the same breath with that of Marian Anderson.”

After heart attacks in 1962 and 1964, Lee severely cut back on her public performances. In 1962, she began teaching voice repertoire at the Cosmopolitan School of Music in Chicago. A lifelong Seventh-day Adventist, Lee was Oakwood College’s first Artist in Residence from 1966 to 1970, while also a professor of voice in the music department.

Alyne Dumas Lee died from a massive heart attack on March 30, 1970, at the age of 67, leaving behind her two adopted daughters, Angela Lee Merriweather and Susan Lee Baker.