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Marian Anderson

February is Black History Month. Each day this month, some historical aspect of black people in America will be featured in a Black History Month Moment. Today's moment is a look at the life and career of singer Marian Anderson.

Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson's parents could not afford to pay for formal training for their daughter, even though she showed musical promise as a child. So, from the age of 6, she was tutored by the choir of the Union Baptist Church in Philadelphia.

Church members also raised enough money for her to go to music school for a year. At 19, she became a pupil of Giuseppe Boghetti, who was so impressed by her talent that he gave her free lessons for a year.

In 1925, at the age of 23, Anderson won a contest that entitled her to perform a series of recitals, including one with the New York Philharmonic. Because she was black, she wasn't allowed to complete many of the concerts, but she did tour black campuses and appeared at New York's Town Hall.

In 1933, she made a successful European tour. Composer Jean Sibelius, who heard her sing in Finland, wrote Solitude for her pure contralto.

She tried to rent Washington's Constitution Hall in 1939 for a concert, but the Daughters of the American Revolution, which owned the hall, refused because of her race. Widespread protests resulted, causing Eleanor Roosevelt to resign from the DAR.

Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin Roosevelt arranged for Anderson to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter, and Anderson drew a crowd of 75,000.

By 1940, Anderson and Paul Robeson were the highest-paid black concert artists in the country. On Jan. 7, 1955, she became the first black performer to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

In 1957, she made a 12-nation tour on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, the American National Theatre and Academy and the television series See It Now. The next year, she was made a delegate to the United Nations, and she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963. She made farewell tours of the world and the United States in 1964 and 1965.

Today is her 90th birthday. She lives in Danbury, Conn.


Source: Webster's American Biographies

Discussion questions

1. A number of notable black entertainers started their careers by singing in church. Name five of them.

2. Is there a difference between spirituals and gospel music? If yes, explain the distinction.

3. Anderson is a contralto. What are the other categories for opera singers' voices?