World Class Singer
April 9, 1939: Marian Anderson gives a concert from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Marian was the eldest of three daughters and born on February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father was a manual laborer and suffered a head injury in 1912, dying soon after. Her mother supported the family as a cleaning woman. Marian began singing in the church choir at the age of six where she was dubbed “The Baby Contralto.” After she graduated from high school, she applied for admission to the Philadelphia Music Academy. She was denied admission because the school was segregated and Ms Anderson was an African-American.
Anderson got her first big break by winning a competition to appear with the New York Philharmonic. She performed professionally from 1925 to 1965. She made it to Carnegie Hall by 1928 and decided to tour Europe as well as the US. Anderson first performed in a concert at Wigmore Hall in London in 1930. She was offered roles in operas, many from important European opera companies. She declined in order to perform in concert or recital venues only. Within her concerts, she often performed arias from a variety of operas. She used her perfect contralto voice in rendering traditional American songs as well as spirituals.
During the late 1930s Anderson was performing at about 70 recitals per year in the US. She had become quite famous, but the color of her skin was still a barrier. She was turned away from certain hotels or restaurants due to segregation laws. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) were functioning in Washington, D.C., a segregated city. When African-Americans preformed at their Constitution Hall, black patrons were forced to sit in the back of the Hall to see the show. To avoid the issue at all, the DAR did not schedule black performers. Rather than perform at the Hall, Anderson gave a concert to 75,000 fans from the Lincoln Memorial.
In the years following, after desegregation, Anderson performed at the Constitution Hall six times, kicking off her farewell tour from that venue. Ms Anderson not only had a beautiful voice, but a kind heart, as well. In 1944 she established the Marian Anderson Award after winning the $10,000 Bok Prize in 1943. She used the money to help support young singers until the money ran out. In 1990, a second funding for the Award was established, but the prize now goes to people exhibiting leadership in humanitarian areas.
A voice like yours is heard only once in a hundred years. – Arturo Toscanini to Marian Anderson
I forgave the DAR many years ago. You lose a lot of time hating people. – Marian Anderson
I suppose I might insist on making issues of things. But that is not my nature, and I always bear in mind that my mission is to leave behind me the kind of impression that will make it easier for those who follow. – Marian Anderson
Prejudice is like a hair across your cheek. You can’t see it, you can’t find it with your fingers, but you keep brushing at it because the feel of it is irritating. – Marian Anderson
When I sing, I don’t want them to see that my face is black. I don’t want them to see that my face is white. I want them to see my soul. And that is colorless. – Marian Anderson
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