February 27, 1897- April 8 1993.
Fear is a disease that eats away at logic and makes man inhuman.
On this date, January 7, 1955, Marian Anderson became the first African-American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera.
On that occasion, she sang the part of Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera.
Thought she felt past her prime at 58 on this occasion, she later felt satisfied with her performance.
The great conductor Toscanini told her, “Yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years.” Labeled a brilliant contralto, and the oldest child of three daughters, she struggled out of a childhood of poverty in South Philadelphia. Her father died in 1912 after incurring a head wound. After moving in with her father’s parents, the family struggled. At 6 she joined the local Baptist Choir, later taking lessons from Mary Saunders Patterson. Popular, she began accepting invitations to sing eventually requesting the sum of $5.00 per night and finally singing at the age of 22, at the National Baptist Convention. Her high school principal enabled her to met Guiseppe Boghetti, a much sought-after teacher, who was reportedly moved to tears when he heard her and took her on.
Anderson built a career, scraping up money for lessons, and riding the black-only “Jim Crow” railroad cars to sing before black audiences. She sang at the Philadelphia Philharmonic Society, entered and won the Lewisohn Stadium Competitions, and sang ins the New York Amphitheater, performed a solo recital at Carnegie Hall on December 30,1928.
The Women’s Hall of Fame says then:
“Like many black artists in the days of segregation, she had to go to Europe to gain recognition. The show business promoter Sol Hurok heard her in Paris and decided to bring her back to this country, ignoring those who told him, “You won’t be able to give her away.” Her famous concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939, demonstrated that her great talent could shatter the color line. Marian Anderson’s career helped to make music one of the first fields in which Black Americans’ achievements were given fair and full recognition.”
The DAR refused to allow her to perform at the Washington DC Constitution Hall n 1939, which they owned, because Washington DC was still segregated. The outrage that occurred was enormous for the day, Public and famous musician protested, and Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR. Roosevelt, Hurok and Walter White of the NAACP road herd to get Harold Ickes, then Secretary of Interior, to allow a free open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial. On April 9th, Anderson performed before 75,000 people and millions of the radio listeners. Anderson said of the event:
“I said yes, but the yes did not come easily or quickly. I don’t like a lot of show, and one could not tell in advance what direction the affair would take. I studied my conscience. …. As I thought further, I could see that my significance as an individual was small in this affair. I had become, whether I like it or not, a symbol, representing my people.”
And so she had become. Then, she went on to help the world.
Honors and notations include:
1956 Goodwill Ambassadress for the US State Dept. and American National Theater and Academy, in 1958 this title was formalized to Delegate
1957-58, Eisenhower’s delegate to the UN Human Rights Committee
1961 JFK’s Inaugural Singer
1963 Medal of Freedom
1972 UN Peace Prize
1973 University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit
1973 Inducted into the Women’s National Hall of Fame
1991 Lifetime Achievement Grammy
2001 Library of Congress Preserves the Lincoln performance film footage as significant.
2002 Asante lists Anderson as one of 100 Greatest African Americans.
2005 Anderson is honored in a postage stamp as part of the Black Heritage Series, and is also listed on the $5,000 series I US Savings Bond
Boy Scouts Silver Buffalo Award.
The Marian Anderson Award is named for her and is given to an artist who exhibits leadership in a humanitarian area. The award was first given in 1998. The most recent recipients in 2008 were Maya Angelou and Norman Lear.
PUMA, The New Agenda, 4ERA, 51 Percent