This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.
The Good – Marian Anderson
Marian Anderson was born on Feb, 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the oldest of three girls born to a devout Christian family. Marian and her family attended Union Baptist Church. Marian’s aunt Mary was active in music at the church and when she noticed her niece’s talent for singing at age 6, she had Marian perform with the junior choir. She would often sing solos and duets with her aunt. They also traveled to other churches and community events to perform, even getting paid for some performances.
When she was 12, Anderson’s father died a month after an industrial accident. The family moved in with her fraternal grandparents and she became close with her grandfather. But he died about a year later.
Anderson graduated from grammar school but her family could not afford to send her to high school or for music lessons. She continued to perform and learned from anyone who would teach her. She joined the People’s Chorus and soon the chorus and her church raised money for her to go to high school and receive singing lessons from Mary Saunders Patterson. After high school, Anderson applied to Philadelphia Music Academy, but was rejected because she was black. Forging on, she signed up to learn from Giuseppe Boghetti and Agnes Reifsnyder. Anderson auditioned for Boghetti singing “Deep River” which brought him to tears.
She got her first break in 1925 when she won a contest to sing with the New York Philharmonic. The concert was a huge success with the audience and the critics. However, she still had to deal with racial barriers in the United States when it came to performing. So she went to Europe to tour and was very successful.
In 1934, she was convinced by Sol Hurok to come back to the United States and he would be her manager. She continued to tour both the United States and Europe and became famous. However, she still faced prejudice in the United States at certain hotels and restaurants. Albert Einstein would often host Anderson so she could have a place to stay while performing locally – the first time at Princeton University.
Anderson was denied the chance by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939 to sing for an integrated audience at Constitution Hall. The outrage from the NAACP and other organizations made it all the way to the White House where Eleanor Roosevelt, like other DAR members, resigned from the organization. It was then that President Roosevelt, the head of the NAACP Walter White, and Hurok convinced the Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes to let Anderson sing at an open-air concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial. She performed Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939 to an audience of 75,000. She would later perform for DAR at Constitution Hall in 1943.
In 1955, Anderson became the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Later she would sing for both Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy’s inaugurations. She would tour Asia as a goodwill ambassador and perform at benefit concerts for the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. She would retired from singing in 1965.
She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Kennedy and in 1991 received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Anderson died of heart failure at April 8, 1993 at the Portland, Oregon home of her nephew, conductor, James DePriest. She was 96.
Marian Anderson Biography. (n.d.) Retrieved February 18, 2017, from http://www.biography.com/people/marian-anderson-9184422
Marian Anderson (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 18, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marian_Anderson