A Story of Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson Performs On The Steps Of The Lincoln Memorial, With An Introduction By Harold Ickes, April 9, 1939, from archive.org.

Solomon Hurok (1888-1974), [Marian Anderson souvenir program], ca. 1939 (2008.71.1)

Solomon Hurok (1888-1974), [Marian Anderson souvenir program], ca. 1939 (2008.71.1)


Marian Anderson, who last June sang at the White House for the King and Queen of England, was born and reared with her two sisters in Philadelphia‘s Negro quarter. Her father sold ice and coal. Mrs. Anderson, ex-school-mistress from Lynchburg, Virginia, helped by taking in washing.

Marian at six appeared publicly in a duet with another little girl in the Union Baptist Church on Twelfth and Fitzwater Streets, singing “The Lord is my Shepard…” At eight Marian was announced was announced as “the baby contralto”; earned her first fee: fifty cents; graduated from the Junior to the “grown-up” choir, sometimes substituting for an absent Soprano, tenor or bass. To this she attributes the range and timbre of her phenomenal voice.

When her father died, twelve-year-old Marian was forced to seek engagements, mostly as “assisting artist” to visiting performers. But audiences came to listen to HER.

After Marian completed her high school course, the people of her church collected nickels and dimes into a fund for “Marian Anderson’s future.” A scholarship was given her by Mrs. Mary Saunders Patterson with whom she studied for nearly a year. Then, under the auspices of the Philadelphia Choral Society the young singer gave a solo concert which obtained for her two years of ardent study with Miss Agnes Reifsneider of Philadelphia. At the conclusion of this course, well-wishers raised a fund for her to study with Guiseppe Boghetti, the voice teacher, who groomed her for a competition which she won. Her prize-winning appearance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra led to an engagement by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Then all was quiet. The Anderson future was becalmed. That was 1926. She spent a year being coached by Frank LaForge.

In the next four years, young Marian crossed and re-crossed the Atlantic, sang at Carnegie Hall and won a Julius Rosenwald scholarship. For three more years she steamed back and forth, America hesitant to acknowledge her.

Came 1933. Miss Anderson embarking on a three-month’s tour of Europe, did not catch her breath until August 1935 when she capped a sensational two-year circuit of Europe at the Mozarteum in Salzburg.

The famous impresario, S. Hurok, became her manager. The cables sizzled to America and Marian’s native land prepared to welcome back its daughter.

Misfortune literally dogged Miss Anderson`s heels. The last night aboard ship she tripped on the steel staircase and fractured her foot. But the curtain rose on the Town Hall platform promptly at 8:45 p.m. on December 30th, 1935, disclosed a statuesque singer standing in the curve of the grand piano. The flowing folds of her gleaming white gown hid her cast encased foot. None suspected her predicament until at intermission the unusual raising and lowering of the curtain was explained.

The popular demand concert on January 30th at Carnegie Hall jammed the staid precincts, critic Olin Downes prophesying: “The public will look to her for a great deal.”

On March 9th a third New York concert; and by the end of the month, her foot mending, she sailed for another Continental tour. She planned one month for the Soviet Union; was held for three. Europe, Africa, South America all saw that rare spectacle – a box-office avalanche. Miss Anderson received the Grand Prix du Chant for the best recorded voice on the Continent.

In 1938 Miss Anderson gave seventy recitals in the United States, the longest, most intensive tour in concert history for any singer. She also made her initial tour of the southern states. On June 10th, Howard University in Washington conferred upon her an Honorary Doctorate of Music.

Aside from making seventy-five concert appearances in more than sixty cities in one season, and receiving the Spingarn Medal, Miss Anderson last spring became a national issue when Constitution Hall was denied her by the Daughters of the American Revolution, causing Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt to resign from that organization and prompting the United States Government to offer her the use of Lincoln Memorial for an outdoor concert in Washington. Such an honor, unprecedented, was a fitting tribute to the greatest concert personality in the memory of our time.

Miss Anderson constantly seeks out the coaching services of various European song specialists. During one summer she was coached in the works of Gustave Mahler by Mme. Charles Cahier; she studies Italian songs with Jeni Sadero of Rome; French songs with Mme. Germaine de Castro. All of her programs are prepared with the collaboration of her accompanist, Kosti Vehanen, and Maestro Boghetti. Solomon Hurok (1888-1974), [Marian Anderson souvenir program], ca. 1939.

Solomon Hurok (1888-1974), [Marian Anderson souvenir program], ca. 1939 (2008.71.1)

On Easter Sunday in 1939, occurred one of the most dramatic events in the history of music. A Negro girl, of humble origin, stood before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, and with the greatest voice of this generation, sang before an assemblage of 75,000 people.

Born of controversy, the concert was attended by Cabinet members, Senators, Congressmen, leaders in business and society, with Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes as host. Sponsors of the event included the First Lady, members of the Supreme Court and high government officers.

Millions throughout the land listened by radio as this awe-inspiring affirmation of militant American principles was given expression. Solomon Hurok (1888-1974), [Marian Anderson souvenir program], ca. 1939.

Solomon Hurok (1888-1974), [Marian Anderson souvenir program], ca. 1939 (2008.71.1)

Marian Anderson audio from archive.org

Thomas D. McAvoy (1905-1966), [Marian Anderson’s Easter concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, watched by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and others, Washington, DC], April 9, 1939 (1084.2005)

Contralto Marian Anderson’s historic Easter concert, which drew over 75,000 listeners to the Mall, foregrounded the general issue of racism in the United States as well as the specifics of segregation in the nation’s capital. A world-famous singer, Anderson was not allowed to rent the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Washington venue, Constitution Hall, due to their “white artists only” policy. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and thousands of other members resigned from the DAR in outrage. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, encouraged by both Roosevelts, Anderson’s manager Sol Hurok, and Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, arranged for the outdoor Easter concert of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson eventually performed at Constitution Hall, at a war relief concert in 1942 and the beginning of her American farewell tour in 1962.

Marian Anderson’s Easter Sunday Lincoln Memorial concert on April 9, 1939 from the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s “Hearst Metrotone News Collection.”

Lisa Larsen (1925-1959), Marian Anderson, ca. 1949 (2008.4.1)

Unidentified Photographer, [President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), speaking with Marian Anderson (1897-1993), Washington, D.C.], March 22, 1962 (2013.96.136)

Washington, March 22 – Singer Visits President – Marian Anderson, world famous contralto from Philadelphia, poses with President Kennedy during a visit to the White House. Miss Anderson who will sing tonight in a concert at the State Department auditorium, presented the President with a recording of her songs. Kennedy gave her an inauguration medal which Miss Anderson said she plans to wear as a charm. Caption on verso.

Army – Navy Screen Magazine, no. 41 (Reel 2), National Archives and Records Administration, Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer. The choir and Marian Anderson sing a Christmas program. From archive.org.

Marian Anderson was born 119 years ago today on February 27, 1897.

A few links:
The Official Site of Marian Anderson.”
The Marian Anderson Historical Society Museum
“Marian Anderson—Seven Decades at Carnegie Hall and Beyond,” from the Carnegie Hall Archives
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

This entry was posted in Fans in a Flashbulb and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s