Special Reports

MA 30 The Influencers: Yolanda Wyns

December 1, 2015 | By John Fleming

Music Program Director
Harlem School of the Arts

Yolanda Wyns was behind one of the highlights in a New York Philharmonic presentation in October called “In Their Footsteps: Great African-American Singers and Their Legacy: A Tribute to Marian Anderson, Betty Allen, George Shirley and William Warfield.” Wyns led the Dorothy Maynor Singers in William Dawson’s choral arrangement of Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit and Aaron Copland’s Simple Gifts.

The group includes intermediate and advanced vocal students from the Harlem School of the Arts, which was founded by Maynor, a soprano, in 1964. “I make sure at the beginning of each year that I explain to the students who Dorothy Maynor was, and how she started the school in the basement of the church right next door to us,” says Wyns, HSA’s music program director and a onetime student of Allen, the mezzo-soprano who was handpicked by Maynor to be president of the school. 

Wyns has worked with the group for four years. “When I was asked to teach the choir, I walked into a classroom of four students—four girls, to be exact,” she says. “And I said, ‘This is not a choir. It’s a group of singers.’ So we changed it to the Dorothy Maynor Singers. Since then it has grown. This year we have four men and 12 women.” The group’s repertoire ranges from classical to spirituals to pop, and it sang God Bless the Child for Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday celebration at the Apollo Theater in April. 

Along with teaching, Wyns has had an eclectic career onstage. Starting as a 4-year old in Brooklyn, she grew up singing gospel in church and then studied for four years at the Manhattan School of Music. For 15 years, she was a backup singer for Freddie Jackson, Stephanie Mills, Patti Austin, and other pop and R&B stars. She spent two years as Doris the Church Lady in the musical The Color Purple on Broadway and on tour.

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