Anderson, Marian

born Feb. 27, 1897, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.
died April 8, 1993, Portland, Ore.

U.S. singer.

She was immediately recognized for the beauty of her voice and her artistry at her New York City debut in 1924, but the fact that she was black made a concert or opera career in the U.S. impossible. Her London debut in 1930 and tours of Scandinavia established her in Europe, where she worked exclusively until 1935. When she was denied use of Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939, Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial, and the concert was broadcast to great acclaim. Her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, the first performance there by a black singer, took place in 1955, when she was in her late 50s.

Marian Anderson.

Courtesy of RCA Records

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▪ 1994

      U.S. singer (b. Feb. 27, 1897, Philadelphia, Pa.—d. April 8, 1993, Portland, Ore.), maintained a quiet dignity while transcending the racial and cultural barriers imposed on her artistry and used her rich contralto voice brilliantly to interpret the works of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, Verdi, and Richard Strauss as well as spirituals. Though Anderson's birth certificate stated that she was born in 1897, she maintained that her birth date was Feb. 17, 1902. She began singing in church choirs at the age of six, and by the time she graduated from high school, she was singing professionally. Anderson's application to a local music school was turned down because she was black, so friends and family financed her private voice lessons with Giuseppe Boghetti in New York City. After winning first prize in a New York Philharmonic voice competition in 1925, she secured concert and recital engagements. Her prospects soon dwindled, however, and she embarked on a series of European trips for study and then for concert tours. There the quality of her full-bodied voice and her emotive spirituals, including "My Lord, What a Morning" and "Crucifixion," enraptured audiences and prompted Arturo Toscanini to rave that a voice like hers was heard only "once in a hundred years." She gave royal command performances for the kings of Denmark and Sweden before returning to the U.S. in 1935 as a mature and experienced performer. After Anderson gave a highly successful recital at Town Hall in New York City, she was deluged with engagements. In 1939, however, because of her race, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow her to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. In protest, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR, and it was arranged for Anderson to present a free Easter Sunday (April 9, 1939) concert at the Lincoln Memorial, where 75,000 admirers gathered to hear her renditions of Schubert's "Ave Maria" and such spirituals as "Gospel Train," "Trampin'," and "My Soul Is Anchored in the Lord." Anderson performed at the White House and at presidential inaugurations, and during World War II she finally appeared at Constitution Hall. She was past her vocal prime when she made her operatic debut, but in 1955 she became the first black to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, appearing as Ulrica in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball). Though she never accepted another operatic role, she had assumed the mantle of a trailblazer. Anderson's serene stage presence, coupled with her ability to adapt to a wide range, especially in lieder, became the hallmark of her long and distinguished career. Her autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, appeared in 1956. After an extended farewell tour, she retired in 1965. Anderson was the recipient of the 1963 Presidential Medal of Freedom, a 1978 Kennedy Center Honor, and the 1986 National Arts Medal, and her image was minted on a 1980 congressional gold medal.

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▪ American singer
born February 27, 1897, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.
died April 8, 1993, Portland, Ore.
 American singer, one of the finest contraltos of her time.

      Anderson displayed vocal talent as a child, but her family could not afford to pay for formal training. From the age of six, she was tutored in the choir of the Union Baptist Church, where she sang parts written for bass, alto, tenor, and soprano voices. Members of the congregation raised funds for her to attend a music school for a year. At 19 she became a pupil of Giuseppe Boghetti, who was so impressed by her talent that he gave her free lessons for a year. In 1925 she entered a contest with 300 competitors and won first prize, a recital at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Her appearance in August 1925 was a great success.

      Although many concert opportunities were closed to her because of her race, Anderson appeared with the Philadelphia Symphony and toured African American Southern college campuses. She made her European debut in Berlin in 1930 and made highly successful European tours in 1930–32, 1933–34, and 1934–35. Still relatively unknown in the United States, she received scholarships to study abroad and appeared before the monarchs of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England. Her pure vocal quality, richness of tone, and tremendous range made her, in the opinion of many, the world's greatest contralto.

      Anderson's New York concert debut at Town Hall in December 1935 was a personal triumph. She subsequently toured South America and in 1938–39 once again toured Europe. In 1939, however, she attempted to rent concert facilities in Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and was refused because of her race. This sparked widespread protest from many people, including Eleanor Roosevelt (Roosevelt, Eleanor), who, along with many other prominent women, resigned from the DAR. Arrangements were made for Anderson to appear instead at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, and she drew an audience of 75,000. On January 7, 1955, she became the first African American singer to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Before she began to sing her role of Ulrica in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, she was given a standing ovation by the audience.

      In 1957 Anderson's autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, was published. The same year, she made a 12-nation, 35,000-mile (56,000-km) tour sponsored by the Department of State, the American National Theatre and Academy, and Edward R. Murrow's television series See It Now. Her role as a goodwill ambassador for the United States was formalized in September 1958 when she was made a delegate to the United Nations. Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and she was the recipient of numerous honorary degrees. She made farewell tours of the world and the United States in 1964–65. In 1977 her 75th birthday (see Researcher's Note) was marked by a gala concert at Carnegie Hall. Among her myriad honours and awards were the National Medal of Arts in 1986 and the U.S. music industry's Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1991.

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Universalium. 2010.

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