February 27, 1897
Born In: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died On: April 8, 1993
Marian Anderson was a renowned American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. She came from an affluent family and her upbringing was in a catholic environment. Her singing career started when she was just 6 yrs old. Later, during the period of 1925 till 1965, Marian performed mostly in the concerts and recital of major music venues in U.S.A and Europe. Anderson clambered towards her career, fighting against the prejudice of her being a black lady. Apart from donning the cap of a singer, Anderson also became an important personality to reckon with, due to her continuous support in the struggle for black artists, to overcome the prejudices in U.S. Her life is a classic example for artists, who give up after meeting a few hardships in life, to get motivated and walk towards the path of success.
One of the most recognized African-American singers, Marina Anderson was born on February 27, 1897 to John and Anna Anderson. She was the eldest of the three siblings. Her father John was a loader at Reading Terminal Market, while her mother Anna served as a teacher in Virginia. In 1912, post John’s death, Anna and her daughters moved in with John’s parents. Anderson’s parents were earnest Christians and were active in the Union Baptist Church in South Philadelphia. This provided Marian a totally religious environment to grow in. Marian attended the William Penn High School, until her musical talent showed up. She taught herself to play the family piano as a child and indulged in odd jobs, so that she could buy herself a violin. At an early age of 6, Marian joined the choir at the Union Baptist Church, and at the age of 8 she gave her first solo performance. Her liking for music played a key role in her transfer to South Philadelphia High School. Therein she got the opportunity to sing in assemblies and other school functions.
Marian Anderson’s music career began quite early. After her solo performance in the church, she was nicknamed “The Baby Contralto”. At the age of 13, Marian joined the senior choir at the church and started giving performances in other churches as well. She became immensely popular with her voice and started giving three different performances in a single night. With her flourishing voice, Marian tried to attend a local music school to learn music, but was turned down because of her color. However, the members of her church recognized the talent and raised money together to pay for the services of ‘Giuseppe Boghetti’, a professional vocal coach. Under Boghetti, Marian was introduced to classical music.
With training and guidance, Marian had become a well-established personality in the African-American church circuit, which gave her an opportunity to make her first New York debut at Town Hall in the year 1924. Unfortunately, the show was a failure and the critics found her voice to be incomplete and lacking. This came as a big blow to Marian’s aspirations. Disappointed with the failure, Marian planned to quit her dreams of becoming a singer. The next year, however, gave her an opportunity to participate in a National Music League competition, where she outperformed other 300 participants. As her prize, Marian got an opportunity to perform a solo at the New York Philharmonic. Marian then stayed back in New York and pursued her further studies with Frank La Forge.
Marian performed in a number of concerts in the States for the next few years, but her race kept her tied back. The creed and color difference was the reason as to why Marian received limited opportunities to perform in front of big audience. It was in 1928 that Marian performed for the first time at the Carnegie Hall. In 1931, she was awarded a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to study in Europe, where she realized that her singing was respected and appreciated, much unlike the scenario back home. From the year 1933 to 1935, Anderson toured all over Europe visiting Scandinavia, France, England, Italy, Austria and Spain and giving her performances in many places. Her repertoire included 200 songs in 9 languages, in which she combined classical works and the spirituals she had first learnt in her early church life.
Peak Of Career
In one of her performances, an eminent personality Sol Hurok saw Marian in a concert in Paris. Impressed by her performance, he invited Marian on a singing tour through the U.S. Although her talents had been given their due only in Europe, Anderson welcomed the chance to return home. Marian appeared for the 2nd time in New York’s town house on 20th of December, 1935. This time she was welcomed with success. She was booked for 2 yrs in advance and her concerts were sold out across the States. In 1936, Marian became the first African American to perform at the White House. Though Marian became a quite famous and celebrated singer, the stigma of being an African did not left her. In the year 1939, Hurok tried to book a concert at Washington D.C Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). His proposal was, however, turned down by the sisters, stating that the hall was not available on the day Hurok wanted it. The actual reason for the refusal, nonetheless, was not hidden.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, along with Walter White, the executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people and Sol Hurok persuaded the Secretary of the Interior, Harold L. Ickes, to arrange for an open air Marian Anderson concert on the steps of Lincoln memorial. The proposal took physical shape on April 9 of that year, as Marian shared the stage with Vehanen in the concert. The event attracted more than 75,000 people and was a sensational hit with more than a million national radio audiences. In 1943, Marian finally performed at the Constitutional Hall, following the invitation of the DAR. The event was organized as part of the benefit for the American Red Cross. On 7th January 1955, she became the first African-American to perform with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In the year 1957, she performed for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration and she toured India and the Far East as a goodwill ambassadress representing her country. On 20th January, 1961 she performed for President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, and the next year in 1962 she performed for President Kennedy and the other dignitaries in the East Room of the White House. The same year she even represented her country in Australia. In April 1965, on an Easter Sunday, Marian Anderson gave her final concert at the Carnegie Hall, followed by a yearlong farewell tour.
The glorious career of Marian Anderson was not shy of any awards and achievements. Apart from being bestowed by a number of awards from the various parts of the world, Marian was awarded honorary doctorate degrees by Howard University, Temple University and Smith College. A half-ounce gold commemorative medal with her likeness was coined by the United States Treasury Department in 1980. Some of the awards lauded to her were:
1972: U.N. Peace Price
1973: University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit
1977: Congressional Gold Medal
1978: Kennedy Center Honors
1981: George Peabody Medal
1984: Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award
1986: National Medal of Arts
1990: Silver Buffalo Award
1991: Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement
On July 17, 1943 Marian Anderson accepted the proposal of Orpheus H. Fisher, also known as the ‘King’ to become her second wife. The two got married in Bethel, Connecticut. By this marriage she had a stepson, James Fisher. In 1986, Anderson's husband, Orpheus Fisher, died after 43 years of marriage.
Marian Anderson died of congestive heart failure on 8th April 1993, at the age of 96. She had suffered a stroke the previous month. She took her last breath in Portland, Oregon at the home of her nephew.
The bequest of Marian Anderson has been an inspiration to many writers and artists all over the world. There were many classics created by famous producers to bring forth the clambered life of Marian Anderson. The year 1999 saw the first of such attempt entitled ”My Lord, What a Morning”, The Marian Anderson story, which was produced by Kennedy Center. In the year 2001, the documentary film ‘Marian Anderson: the Lincoln Memorial Concert’ which was created in 1939, was chosen by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United Sates National Film Registry as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” work. This documentary also forms the plot of Richard Power’s novel ‘The Time of Our Singing’ (2003). In the year 2002, the great scholar Molefi Kete Asante included Marian Anderson on her list of 100 greatest African Americans. A commemorating U.S. postage stamp honored Marian Anderson as a part of the Black Heritage series on 27th January, 2005.
1897: Marian Anderson was born
1909: Shifted base to South Philadelphia
1912: Graduated from Stanton Grammar School
1925: Performs with New York Philharmonic Orchestra
1928: Becomes first black female to perform at Carnegie Hall.
1935: Made her first recital appearance in New York at Town Hall
1939: Denied use of Constitutional Hall, Marian Anderson sings on steps of Lincoln Memorial
1943: Marries Orpheus H. Fisher
1955: Became first black singer to perform with Metropolitan Opera as regular company member
1957: Sang for President Dwight D. Eisenhower's inauguration and toured India and the Far East as a goodwill ambassadress
1961: Sang for President John F. Kennedy's inauguration
1962: Performed for President Kennedy and other dignitaries in the East Room of the White House. Also toured Australia
1965: Gave her final concert at Carnegie Hall
1993: Marian Anderson died