Dorothy Leigh Maynor was born on September 10, 1910, in Norfolk, Virginia. Her father, John J. Maynor, was pastor of Norfolk’s St. John’s Methodist Church. Her mother, Alice Jeffries Maynor, had the responsibility of raising Dorothy and her older siblings and maintaining the household.
At age 14, Maynor was enrolled in the preparatory program at the Hampton Institute. Although she had planned to be a schoolteacher, Robert Nathaniel Dett, the director of the Hampton Institute Choir, persuaded her to give singing a try. Dett later composed six spirituals especially for Maynor.
Maynor received her B.S. degree from Hampton, and later accepted a scholarship to study at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. She received a second degree in music and choral conducting in 1935. She continued taking private music lessons, and at the 1939 Berkshire Festival at Tanglewood, Massachusetts, Maynor attracted the attention of Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Koussevitzky called Maynor’s voice “a miracle,” and “a musical revelation that the world must hear.”
During the 1940s, Maynor gave recitals around the world. She performed in Europe, Australia, Latin America, and with a number of prominent U.S. orchestras as well. She was known to always end her concerts performing Negro spirituals.
Dorothy Leigh Maynor Rooks died on February 19, 1996 in West Chester, Pennsylvania at the age of 85.