(Aug 8,1948 -Feb. 11, 2022). Perry was born in Brooklyn, New York, as Betty Jo-Ann Montgomery. She was the oldest of nine children who, at the age of five was orphaned, moving into the foster care system. When Perry was nine years old, she and two siblings went to live with their maternal grandmother Rebell Kearse Tobe in the Bronx neighborhood of Fort Apache.

At age 12, Perry received a scholarship to study viola at Third Street Music Settlement in New York City. Teachers noticed Perry’s gift for playing. They opened doors for her to perform with groups at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. She went on to attend the New York College of Music and Mannes College of Music. As a freelance musician, she helped organize the Harlem Symphony.

Perry met her future husband Edward Earl Perry through New York music circles. After the two married, she set aside her performing ambitions to raise her two children. In 1978, the Perry family moved to Indianapolis to be near Edward Perry’s mother. A teacher of Betty Perry’s daughter introduced her to the Indianapolis music community.

Betty Perry leading children in a drum class, 1998 Credit: Indiana State Library View Source

She found work performing at Butler University and with the Kokomo Symphony Orchestra. However, after attending an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (Iso) performance Perry noticed the lack of musicians of color in Indianapolis’ classical music community. To develop future generations of classical musicians and give them the tools to overcome the color barrier Perry developed her own music programs to teach youngsters of all races and ethnicities musicianship and music theory. Notably, she started Ebony Essence chamber ensemble and then, in 1995, established the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra (MYO), for which she is best-known.

MYO was originally housed at The Children’s Museum but eventually became affiliated with the ISO in 2008. As director of the program, Perry encouraged the parents of MYO musicians to learn instruments alongside their children to strengthen the family bond. Over the years, she accumulated instruments and provided musical instruction at a low cost in her effort to make the otherwise expensive art of classical music training affordable to families from all economic backgrounds.

Perry stepped down from directorship of MYO in 2015. The program continues to serve an estimated 200 student-musicians and families each year.

Revised September 2022

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