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Tue Apr 9, 2019, 05:28 AM

80 Years Ago Today; Marion Anderson's Concert at the Lincoln Memorial


Marian Anderson in 1940, by Carl Van Vechten

Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) was an American singer. Anderson was one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. Music critic Alan Blyth said: "Her voice was a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty."[2] Most of her singing career was spent performing in concert and recital in major music venues and with famous orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965. Although offered roles with many important European opera companies, Anderson declined, as she had no training in acting. She preferred to perform in concert and recital only. She did, however, perform opera arias within her concerts and recitals. She made many recordings that reflected her broad performance repertoire of everything from concert literature to lieder to opera to traditional American songs and spirituals. Between 1940 and 1965 the German-American pianist Franz Rupp was her permanent accompanist.

Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid-twentieth century. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. The incident placed Anderson into the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician. With the aid of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. She sang before an unsegregated crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. Anderson continued to break barriers for black artists in the United States, becoming the first black person, American or otherwise, to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 7, 1955. Her performance as Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at the Met was the only time she sang an opera role on stage.

Anderson worked for several years as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and as a "goodwill ambassadress" for the United States Department of State, giving concerts all over the world. She participated in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, singing at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.


1939 Lincoln Memorial concert

Anderson in her 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in their Constitution Hall. At the time, Washington, D.C., was a segregated city and black patrons were upset that they had to sit at the back of Constitution Hall. Constitution Hall also did not have the segregated public bathrooms required by DC law at the time for such events. The District of Columbia Board of Education also declined a request to use the auditorium of a white public high school.

Charles Edward Russell, a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and chair of the DC citywide Inter-Racial Committee, convened a meeting on the following day that formed the Marian Anderson Citizens Committee (MACC) composed of several dozen organizations, church leaders and individual activists in the city, including the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the Washington Industrial Council-CIO, American Federation of Labor, and the National Negro Congress. MACC elected Charles Hamilton Houston as its chairman and on February 20, the group picketed the board of education, collected signatures on petitions, and planned a mass protest at the next board of education meeting.

As a result of the ensuing furor, thousands of DAR members, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, resigned from the organization. In her letter to the DAR, she wrote, "I am in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to a great artist ... You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed."

Author Zora Neale Hurston criticized Eleanor Roosevelt's public silence about the similar decision by the District of Columbia Board of Education, while the District was under the control of committees of a Democratic Congress, to first deny, and then place race-based restrictions on, a proposed concert by Anderson.

As the controversy swelled, the American press overwhelmingly backed Anderson’s right to sing. The Philadelphia Tribune wrote, “A group of tottering old ladies, who don't know the difference between patriotism and putridism, have compelled the gracious First Lady to apologize for their national rudeness.” Even some Southern newspapers supported Anderson. The Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote, ‘’In these days of racial intolerance so crudely expressed in the Third Reich, an action such as the D.A.R.’s ban. . . seems all the more deplorable.’’

At Eleanor Roosevelt's behest, President Roosevelt and Walter White, then-executive secretary of the NAACP, and Anderson's manager, impresario Sol Hurok, persuaded Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes to arrange an open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The concert was performed on Easter Sunday, April 9, and Anderson was accompanied, as usual, by Vehanen. They began the performance with a dignified and stirring rendition of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee". The event attracted a crowd of more than 75,000 of all colors and was a sensation with a national radio audience of millions.

Two months later, in conjunction with the 30th NAACP conference in Richmond, Virginia, Eleanor Roosevelt gave a speech on national radio (NBC and CBS) and presented Anderson with the 1939 Spingarn Medal for distinguished achievement.

A documentary film about the event was selected for the National Film Registry.


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Reply 80 Years Ago Today; Marion Anderson's Concert at the Lincoln Memorial (Original post)
Dennis Donovan Apr 9 OP
malaise Apr 9 #1
secondwind Apr 9 #2
Honeycombe8 Apr 9 #3
TNNurse Apr 9 #4
BumRushDaShow Apr 9 #5

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Tue Apr 9, 2019, 05:35 AM

1. How my parents loved her

What a voice - Rec

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Tue Apr 9, 2019, 06:43 AM

2. What a story! This is what I most love about DU...

I learn something new every single day. DU enriches my heart and mind every damn day.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Tue Apr 9, 2019, 08:00 AM

3. Wow...she had almost as many people as were at Trump's inauguration!

And there are almost as many people at her performance as there are gang members at the southern border!

BTW...it's "Marian."

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Response to Honeycombe8 (Reply #3)

Tue Apr 9, 2019, 08:21 AM

4. Oh, Ms Anderson had a much bigger crowd than Trump.

I have so loved this story since I first learned it years ago.

If any of you have children and grandchildren or kids you care about buy the book "When Marian Sang". It tells this story with wonderful illustrations. I have purchased several copies for kids.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Tue Apr 9, 2019, 08:37 AM

5. Hometown Philly representing!

Philly’s Marian Anderson Is Getting Some Long-Overdue Love

Eighty years ago this month, the world’s most famous singer became a civil rights icon.
By Christine Speer Lejeune· 4/9/2019, 8:00 a.m.

One of the pitfalls of living in a city so well stocked with Historical Characters of Great Import (HCGIs) is that many compelling figures fade into the collective shadow of white guys in breeches. Case in point: When the U.S. Treasury announced three years ago that Marian Anderson would appear on the new $5 bill, the typical response — particularly among younger Philadelphians — was a resounding “Wait, who?”

Born in South Philly in 1897, Anderson was the 20th century’s Beyoncé, an opera superstar who sold out concerts around the globe, entertained presidents and kings, and brought audiences to tears singing Verdi and Schubert along with black spirituals. Her warm, clear contralto was famously described by conductor Arturo Toscanini as a voice heard “once in a hundred years.”

Though she rose to fame in (and despite) Jim Crow America, Anderson rarely discussed the indignities of racism that she endured. But 80 years ago this month, the course of history was permanently altered. After the Daughters of the American Revolution refused Anderson the stage at Washington, D.C.’s segregated Constitution Hall, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt helped arrange for her to sing instead at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939 — turning the world’s most famous singer into a civil rights icon.

“I had become, whether I liked it or not, a symbol representing my people,” Anderson later wrote. Before a crowd of 75,000, she sang seven songs — a brief concert with outsize impact. When she died in 1993 at age 96, she’d racked up honors ranging from the Grammys’ Lifetime Achievement Award to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Read more at https://www.phillymag.com/news/2019/04/09/marian-anderson-philadelphia/#HlB07UhLO0gZh6O6.99

Her South Philly home is also a museum - http://marianandersonhistoricalsociety.weebly.com/

(as a note, South Philly was African-American and Irish just before the Italians arrived during WWI/II. My great- and great-greats lived there)

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