Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson 1897-1993
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Education: Honorary doctorates from over two dozen colleges

When Marian Anderson was a child, she was interested in the violin, but it became apparent that she had a remarkable contralto voice, which is a singing range between tenor and soprano. She dreamed of becoming a great opera singer, and her voice was so good that her church and the Philadelphia African-American community helped her financially.

She encountered racism, however. It was very unusual in those days for an African American to want to study and sing opera. When she became a successful opera singer and went on tour, she was often refused accommodations in restaurants and hotels.

In 1939, Anderson was scheduled to sing in Constitution Hall. But because she was African American, the owners of the hall refused to let her sing. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was an advocate of equal rights for all people, arranged for Anderson to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The concert drew 75,000 people, millions of radio listeners, and the symbolism of the location moved many people. The concert helped focus attention on the importance of equal rights, and the unfairness of prejudice.

In the 1950s, Marian Anderson became the first African American to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. She sang for the heads of state in many countries; Anderson performed at the inaugurations of Eisenhower and Kennedy. In 1963, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson.

Related Resources

Web Resources
"I regret exceedingly.."
A copy of the letter Roosevelt sent the DAR.

Marian Anderson: A Life in Song
A extensive site about Anderson.

Black History Month  Return to the Encyclopedia
of Prominent African Americans

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