Marian Anderson, First African-American Operatic Singer
Marian was born to John Berkeley Anderson, an ice and coal dealer, and Annie Delilah Rucker, a former school teacher, on February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Two years later, Alice (Alyse) was born and, in 1990, Ethel, the youngest, completed the Anderson's family addition.
The family members were devout Christians who attended the Union Baptist Church. All the girls were good singers, but Marian in particular showed promise. Marian's paternal aunt Mary encouraged the six-year-old girl to join the junior church choir. As Marian developed her singing talent, Aunt Mary took her to various concert opportunities in the city.
Later, Marian admitted that it was her aunt's influence and encouragement that caused her to pursue a career in music, a career that would win the young singer recognition beyond her imagined dreams.
Marian's Vocal Training
Onset of Study
Mary S. Patterson
famed vocal instructor
famed vocal instructor
pianist and composer
pianist and vocal coach
For Further Reading
Unexpected Racial Biases
Marian was so filled with the love of music that she simply had neither the desire nor time to harbor ill feelings toward anyone, even those who held racial biases against her.
The first of these incidents occurred when Marian was just out of high school and applied to the Philadelphia Music Academy (today's University of the Arts). The admissions clerk refused the application on the basis that "we don't take colored."
As her career progressed, she sang at venues in both Europe and the United States. Her first debut in London, England was in the spring of 1930 at Wigmore Hall. She did not suffer the biases in Europe that she did in the States and received wonderful reviews.
Between the years of 1935 and 1939, she was being denied service in hotels and restaurants in the U.S. The greatest rebuke came from the manager of Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), when he refused to allow Marian to sing there. Eleanor Roosevelt, among others, resigned from the DAR when she heard the news. Instead, arrangements were made by supporters for her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial before an audience of 75,000 people. Millions of radio listeners were also able to hear the performance.
Four years later, the DAR finally invited her to sing at Constitution Hall, where they had denied her previously. Marion held no grudge and performed flawlessly in the beautiful auditorium. This little triumph, however, was set back by the Washington, D.C. Board of Education when they forbade her to sing in a high school auditorium. To help neutralize the Board of Education's sting, President Franklin Roosevelt invited her to sing at the White House for a private engagement with guests King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
This was the social climate during the time of Marian's career. There were a lot of deep-routed biases by many Americans toward people of color in that era, regardless of education or status. None of this fazed the dedicated singer, however, whose only mission was to share her love of God and music through her singing.
Later, when seeking a home in which to retire, an exhaustive search ensued because landowners refused to sell to blacks. Success was finally achieved, however, with the purchase of a 100-acre farm in Danbury, Connecticut.
Special Achievements and Awards
- 1925 New York Philharmonic Society Contest Winner
- 1928 Julius Rosenwald and National Association of Negro Musicians Scholarships
- 1939 NAACP Spingarn Medal
- 1943 City of Philadelphia's Bok Prize ($10,000)/Start of The Marian Anderson Award
- 1955 Metropolitan Opera Member
- 1958 Elected Fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and U.N. Delegate
- 1963 Presidential Medal of Freedom
- 1977 United Nations Peace Prize and the Congressional Gold Medal
- 1978 Kennedy Center Honors Award
- 1980 Marion Anderson U.S. Treasury Gold Commemorative Medal (half-ounce coins)
- 1984 George Peabody Medal, Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, and honorary PhDs from Howard University, Temple University and Smith College
- 1986 National Medal of Arts
- 1991 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
Performances and Engagements
After Marian's childhood exposure to choral singing through the neighborhood church under her aunt's influence and consequent training, one of the singer's first public performance was at New York City's Town Hall in 1924. She received mixed reviews for that occasion.
Within a year, though, she sang with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra after winning a singing competition. Thereafter, her career took hold and she debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1928. Continued biases led her to perform in Europe, where she continued her studies and performed singing tours. It was not unusual for Marian to perform up to 70 concerts in a year.
In 1930 she performed at Wigmore Hall in London and was met with positive endorsements. Kosti Vehanen, a Finnish pianist, and Sibelius, a composer, took interest in Marian's future.
In 1935, Arthur Rubenstein introduced her to her new manager, who convinced the young diva to return to the United States. Once again, she performed at New York's Town Hall and, this time, was met with admiration and approval.
Additional singing tours took her to Russia, India, and the Far East, traveling tens of thousands of miles. Each time, her warmth and vocal charisma charmed audiences wherever she went. She also performed for soldiers and dignitaries in private concerts with an aim to successfully uplift at least one soul with her singing.
When she founded the Marian Anderson Award in 1943, she did so to benefit young, talented singers with scholarships to further their talents.
Between concert engagements after 1943, she often recuperated several months on her farm in Connecticut by gardening, sewing, cooking, and upholstering.
She sang at both Eisenhower's and Kennedy's presidential inaugurations. The awards and honors were the result of a natural talent matured by extensive training and work. The lady's life was as rich as her voice, and her strength served as an example for young persons of color who wish to pursue a career path in the arts. ***
Two Influential People Who Managed Marian's Career
New York Philharmonic - Philadelphia Orchestra Manager
Manager of Great Performers, including Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, Arthur Rubenstein, and Efrem Zimbalist
- Marian's childhood nickname was "Baby Contralto."
- Marian's father died of accidental complications in 1910.
- Marian's paternal grandfather had been a slave.
- Marian was a member of Baptists' Young People's Union and Campfire Girls.
- Due to uncertainties in the early part of her career, Marian had registered to attend secretarial school.
- She was complimented by Arturo Toscanini, the Italian director, for a voice "heard once in a hundred years."
- Although she sang arias, Marian never performed onstage in an opera.
- She married architect Orpheus H. Fisher in Bethel, Connecticut on July 17, 1943.They had been sweethearts since childhood.
- In 1965, she retired from singing to her farm in Connecticut.
- Husband died in 1986.
- She sold "Marianna Farms" in 1992 and moved to Portland, Oregon to reside with a nephew.
- In May 1993, she suffered a stroke and died of congestive heart failure on April 8, 1993.
- She was buried in Collingdale, Pennsylvania.
"Deep River" Performed by Marian . . . Enjoy!
After listening to the original presentation, you may listen to other songs by Marian by holding your cursor over the sectioned video leads and reading the tags, then clicking on the recording of your choice. (Please note that "Roll, Jordan, Roll" is disembodied; however, other recordings are not. If you accidentally click on it, simply refresh the page and choose a different video, if you wish.) This is a video mix, which includes performances by other vocal artists as well.
The lady's singing speaks for itself. If you're a lover of spirituals and a collector, this is definitely a consideration.
Credits and Resources
http://www.biography.com/people/marian-anderson-9184422?page=2 (Partial Biographical Information)
http://www.greatblackheroes.com/entertainment/marian-anderson/ (Biographical Details)