Margaret Dexter (nee Earnshaw), who has died at the age of 95, was a soprano of some renown in West Yorkshire classical music and musical theatre circles.

Born in 1929 and raised in Otley, she devoted much of her life to singing and acting, whether it be on stage or on the concert platform, and galvanising those around her to do the same.

During a 60-year association with the former Guiseley Amateur Operatic Society (now Guiseley Theatrical Productions) she was, at various times, the leading lady, chorus master, musical director and for more than 22 years, the society’s chairman.

Whilst she was extremely effective as an administrator, it was her passion for singing which drove her on.

Raised in Bank Parade, Otley, the only child of Harold and Ethel Earnshaw, she came from a musical family and, from an early age, showed promise. As a young girl she was encouraged to sing both at home and at school and it became apparent that she possessed a high soprano’s voice that was pure in tone and extremely flexible.

A young Margaret Dexter with the Waddilove Schubert Trophy A young Margaret Dexter with the Waddilove Schubert Trophy

At the age of 20, she won the prestigious Waddilove Schubert Trophy at the Wharfedale Music Festival, an award contested, annually, by the four winners of the Soprano, Tenor, Contralto and Bass classes at the festival which, in those days, could attract more than 100 competitors.

She was subsequently trained by the voice teacher Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen at the Yorkshire College of Music. Often, as she sat in the waiting room, she would hear a young Julie Andrews having a lesson before her.

Ms Andrews, of course, went on to star in Hollywood blockbusters such as The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins.

Later, Margaret was trained in Harrogate by Eric Godley who had performed for many of the European royal families prior to The Great War.

Margaret’s first love was the concert platform where she would often be the soprano soloist in oratorios such as Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Creation and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.

Her dream was to study at the Royal Northern College of Music and then turn professional but, in the late 1940’s and early 50’s further education grants were few and far between and the family were unable to fund such a move.

Instead, she performed as a semi-professional across Yorkshire for numerous choral societies.

In 1956 she joined Guiseley Amateur Operatic Society where she met her future husband Herman Dexter. They married in 1961 and two children followed - Mark and Joanne.

She spent much of the 1960’s and 70’s as the society’s leading lady. Her favourite show was Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, the operetta which introduced the world to the Can-Can.

The production was performed in 1972 and rehearsals were repeatedly conducted under candlelight as the miners strike and the “Winter of Discontent” resulted in regular power cuts.

Margaret first became chorus master and then musical director during the 1980’s, before taking up the reins as the society’s chairman in the late 1980’s.

Her tenure embraced a wide variety of productions and she was always keen to make new members feel at home and to mentor youngsters, some of whom went on to have professional careers in musical theatre in London’s West End.

At home, the house was often a place for impromptu singalongs or rehearsals for forthcoming concerts. At times the Dexters were dubbed “Otley’s Von Trapps” in a nod to the family made famous by the film The Sound of Music.

Herman spent several decades performing on the Guiseley Theatre stage both as a principal and in the chorus. Joanne would go on to become a professional soprano with Opera North whilst Mark took several leading roles in the amateur theatre.

Work-wise, Margaret first worked at Otley’s Co-op shoe shop. Later, when Herman began his own building firm, she was effective at sourcing and negotiating for building materials.

Herman and his brothers Roland and Bernard were, collectively, responsible for more than 400 houses across Wharfedale and Airedale. Herman’s last major project was the Sunnydale Ridge development in Otley and where the family home was based for more than 40 years.

In her late 80’s, Margaret left Otley, briefly, to live in Burley in Wharfedale but upon the death of her husband, returned to the town and moved to Adlington House on Bridge Street.

Illness meant she endured a difficult final year largely spent at Ghyll Royd Care Home in Guiseley where the outstanding care offered by the staff was hugely appreciated. Margaret passed away on June 27.

Her funeral will take place at Otley Parish Church at Wednesday, July 31, at 11.00am followed by interment at Guiseley Cemetery.