Marian Anderson was a great contralto singer of the twentieth century who became a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement by default since racial tensions were at an all-time high at the time.
Despite the fact that she had a successful singing career in America, many Americans were unaware of her because of her skin tone. Anderson became the first African American to perform with the Metropolitan Opera in New York after a successful European tour and her return to the United States, among many other accomplishments.
Anderson was born on February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to a family of three girls. Anna’s mother was a teacher, and her father, John, worked as a loader.
She began singing at a young age and was a member of her church’s major chorus. She did not receive official music tuition until she was 15 years old, and her big break came in 1925 when she won a competition sponsored by the New York Philharmonic. She made her debut with the orchestra the same year, to rapturous applause.
Anderson gave her first solo recital at Carnegie Hall two years later, on December 30, 1928. Despite the fact that she was acquiring a reputation in the music industry, racial discrimination significantly outweighed her talent, she continued to pursue her musical goals.
The National Association of Negro Musicians awarded her a scholarship, which came as no surprise given the African-American community’s strong support for her career. When playing in front of mixed audiences, she was adamant about no segregated seating.
After months of voice training, she traveled for Europe and spent months traveling. She was well-received when she returned to the United States after her European tours. Even yet, as a young Black musician, she had to deal with a lot of prejudice.
Anderson delivered approximately 70 recitals in 1930, going from one performance hall to the next, yet she was barred from entering certain lobbies and hotels. When Anderson was denied admittance into a hotel, Albert Einstein, a lover of Anderson’s work, came to her rescue. He was a proponent of racial tolerance, as seen by his multiple invitations to the contralto vocalist to stay with him.
The concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, drew a throng of around 75,000 people, with millions more listening in on their radios, and cemented her place in the Civil Rights movement.
Anderson was scheduled to sing at Constitution Hall on that day, but the Daughters of the American Revolution decided it would be prudent to deny her the opportunity simply because she was black.
This infuriated First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who publicly renounced her membership and assisted Anderson in putting up his famous Easter Sunday show.
Anderson returned to the same Constitution Hall in 1943 to perform for an integrated crowd at a Red Cross function. In the same year, she married architect Orpheus H. Fisher. Marianna Farm, a 100-acre farm in Danbury, was purchased by the couple. For her, he built an acoustic theatre, which is now one of the Connecticut Freedom Trail’s 60 stops. After being relocated to downtown Danbury, the studio was renamed the Marian Anderson studio.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1957 and President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1960 were both attended by the famed singer.
Anderson broke through barriers and opened opportunities for many Black female musicians both at home and abroad by pursuing a career doing what she loved. She became a global citizen, not only for artists but for the entire world.
Anderson was named a representative to the United Nations in 1958 as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.
She continued to make public appearances following her farewell tour in 1964, receiving a slew of medals and distinctions, including the George Peabody Medal in 1981, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1991. She was also the inaugural winner of the City of New York’s Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.
The famed vocalist died of congestive heart failure on April 8, 1993, at the age of 96. She had lived at Marianna Farm for nearly 50 years. She went to Portland, Oregon, to live with her nephew a year before she died. She passed away at her nephew’s house.