Opera singer, a contralto, Marian Anderson was born on February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania according to her birth certificate. However, throughout her life, she gave her birthdate as February 17, 1902. Marian was the oldest of three girls born to John (a Reading Railroad loader) and Anna (briefly attended the Virginia Seminary and College in Lynchburg and worked as a teacher while in Virginia).
Marian's musical career began at the local Baptist church where her father's sister was active in music and noticed Marian's talent. Marian's aunt arranged for her to join the junior choir at age six. Her aunt took her to concerts at local churches, the YMCA and other community music events. Marian credited her aunt's influence as the reason she pursued a singing career.
At age 8, her father purchased a piano from his brother and Marian began teaching herself music and, at age 10, she joined the People's Chorus where she often sang solos.
At the age of 12 or so, her father suffered a head wound at work and died shortly thereafter at the age 34. The family moved in with her father's parents, Benjamin and Isabella Anderson. Her grandfather had been born a slave, but was freed after the emancipation after relocated to Philadelphia. He and Marian became quite close, however he died just a year after Marian and her family moved in and her mother began working cleaning, laundering and scrubbing floors to help support the family since she hadn't obtained a degree.
At age 13, she graduated from Stanton Grammar School, but couldn't afford to be sent to high school. She joined the senior choir at church and began visiting other churches as a guest singer. At times, she would perform at three different places in a single evening. Eventually, she began earning as much as four or five dollars for singing. Several leaders of the black community came together to help Marian, raising money for singing lessons with Mary Patterson and to attend South Philadelphia High School.
At age 15, with the help she began voice lessons with Mary Saunders Patterson, a prominent black soprano. The Philadelphia Choral Society held a benefit concert providing $500 for Marian to study for two years with leading contralto Agnes Reifsnyder.
Marian attended William Penn High School, but transferred to South Philadelphia High School to focus on music and sang frequently at assemblies. After graduating high school at age 18, a local all-white music school, the Philadelphia Music academy – now University of the Arts, rejected her application due to racial issues. However, her high school principal arranged for her to meet Guiseppe Boghetti, a much sought-after teacher. When he heard Marian audition, singing "Deep River," he was moved to tears.
At age 22, Marian sang at the National Baptist Convention and the invitations to sing blossomed in to actual tours where she sang at black colleges and churches in the South where she was earning $100 per concert.
At age 27, her manager and accompanist, William King, arranged for her to sing at New York's Town Hall. The concert was poorly attended and the reviews lackluster to the point where she considered abandoning her career choice. A year later, she won a singing contest through the Philadelphia Philharmonic Society. She then entered the Lewisohn Stadium competition where she beat 300 other singers and sang in New York's amphitheater with the Philharmonic Orchestra, gaining the attention of Arthur Judson who put her under contract.
At age 29, she toured the eastern and southern states and, at age 31, she performed a solo recital at Carnegie Hall where she received glowing reviews. Shortly thereafter, she obtained a scholarship through the National Association of Negro Musicians to study in Britain and, at age 33, she performed at London's Wigmore Hall. Soon after, she returned to the United States, but returned to Europe on a scholarship from the Julius Rosenwald Fund.
At age 36, she debutted in Berlin and performed 142 concerts in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. She performed 142 concerts in Scandinavia alone which included singing before King Gustav in Stockholm and King Christian in Copenhagen. She received a rare invitation to sing before Jean Sibelius, a 70-year-old famous Finnish composer. He was so moved, he dedicated his song "Solitude" to her, and saying, "The roof of my house is too low for your voice."
She began touring more of Europe. This tour concluded in 1935 with an international festival in Salzburg called the Mozarteum. Arturo Toscanini, a very prestigious conductor, heard her sing and told her, "Yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years." Another famous impresario, Sol Hurok, also heard her sing shortly after that and made a contract with her for American concerts.
After returning to the United States, she again sang at New York's Town Hall. This time she was a great success. She also gave two concerts at Carnegie Hall, then toured from coast to coast. Later she returned to tour Europe, Russia, and toured in Latin America, performing about 70 times a year in the United States. Her popularity continued to soar, allowing her first class accommodations everywhere except in her native country where she continued to endure third and fourth class treatment. Interestingly, because of this discrimination, Albert Einstein, a champion of racial tolerance, hosted Anderson on many occasions, the first being in 1937 when she was denied a hotel before performing at Princeton University. She last stayed with him months before he died in 1955.
On Easter Sunday, April 9 1939, Marian, at age 42, performed an open air recital at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The performance was actually scheduled for the Constitution Hall, a concert hall controlled by the Daughters of the American Revolution, but was cancelled when the DAR refused to allow Anderson to sing there. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, then a member of the DAR, resigned her membership and arranged for the performance to be held at the Lincoln Memorial where she sang before a crowd of 75,000 as well as millions of radio listeners. The event became a landmark in civil rights history.
Shortly after the Lincoln Memorial concert, she gave a private concert at the White House where President Franklin D. Roosevelt was entertaining King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Britain. Marian was the first African American soloist to perform at the White House.
On July 17, 1943, at age 46, Marian married Orpheus H. Fisher, a Delaware architect she'd known since childhood. He'd asked her to marry him when they were teenagers. Their wedding was the subject of a short story, The 'Inside' Story, written by Rev. Jack Grenfell's wife, Dr. Clarine Coffin Grenfell in her book "Women My Husband Married, Including Marian Angerson." They resided on "Marianna Farm" in Connecticut. It remained her home for nearly 50 years and she was quite active in the community.
During World War II and the Korean War, she entertained troops in hospitals and bases and, by 1956, she had performed over a thousand times.
By 1950, at age 53, she refused to sing where the audience was segregated.
She continued to break barriers for black artists in the United States, becoming the first black person, American or otherwise, to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 7, 1955. Her performance as Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera was the only time she sang an opera role on stage.
At age 58, she signed with New York's Metropolitan Opera Company. She was the first African American to be hired by the Metropolitan Opera as a regular company member.
A year later, she published her autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, which became a bestseller.
At age 60, she toured India and the Far East as a goodwill ambassador through the U.S. State Department and the American National Theater and Academy. She traveled 35,000 miles in 12 weeks, giving 24 concerts. After that, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed her as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. She sang at his inauguration, as well as John F. Kennedy's in 1961.
In 1962, at age 65, she performed at the White House for President Kennedy and other dignitaries and toured Australia. A year later, she sang at the March on Washington for Job and Freedom.
At age 68, Marian gave her final concert at Carnegie Hall following a year-long farewell tour. She preferred to perform arias, but made many recordings that reflected her broad performance repertoire of everything from concert literature to lieder to opera to traditional American songs and spirituals. She also released her album, Snoopycat: The Adventures of Marian Anderson's Cat Snoopy, which included short stories and songs about her beloved black cat. She christened the nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine, the USS George Washington Carver.
In 1986, her husband passed away. At age 95, Marian relocated to Portland, Oregon to live with her nephew, conductor James DePriest. A few months later she suffered a stroke and was wheelchair bound. Marian Anderson died due to congestive heart failure April 8, 1993 at the age of 96. Over 2,000 attended a memorial service at Carnegie Hall. She is interred at Eden Cemetery in a Philadelphia suburb.
The City of Danbury, near her farm, fought to protect her studio on the farm. As a result, the Danbury Museum and Historical Society received a grant from the State of Connecticut, relocated the structure, restored it, and opened it to the public in 2004. Visitors can see photographs and memorabilia from her career milestones.
Marian Anderson has been an inspiration to both Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman. In 1999, a one-act musical play entitled 'My Lord, What a Morning: The Marian Anderson Story' was produced by the Kennedy Center.
In 2001, the 1939 documentary film, 'Marian Anderson: the Lincoln Memorial Concert' was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
She is included in Molefi Kete Asante's book, '100 Greatest African Americans.'
On January 27, 2005, a commemorative U.S. postage stamp honored Marian Anderson as part of the Black Heritage series. Anderson is also pictured on the U.S. $5,000 Series I United States Savings Bond.
The Marian Anderson House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.
The Marian Anderson Award was originally established in 1943 by Anderson after she was awarded the $10,000 Bok Prize that year by the city of Philadelphia. Anderson used the award money to establish a singing competition to help support young singers. Eventually the prize fund ran out of money and it was disbanded after 1976.
In 1990 the award was re-established and has dispensed $25,000 annually. In 1998 the prize was restructured with the "Marian Anderson Award" going to an established artist, not necessarily a singer, who exhibits leadership in a humanitarian area.
QUOTE: [On prejudice]: Sometimes, it's like a hair across your cheek. You can't see it, you can't find it with your fingers, but you keep brushing at it because the feel of it is irritating. -- Marian Anderson
Awards Throughout Her Lifetime Included
• 1939: Springarn Medal. Given annually to a black American who "shall have made the highest achievement during the preceding year or years in any honorable field of endeavor."
• 1941: Bok Award. Given annually to an outstanding Philadelphia citizen. She used the $10,000 prize money to found the Marian Anderson Scholarships.
• 1957: Delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Appointed my President Eisenhower.
• 1957: Elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
• 1963: Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Lyndon Johnson.
• 1973: Award of Merit. University of Pennsylvania Glee Club.
• 1977: Congressional Gold Medal. Congress awarded her the medal for what was thought to be her 75th birthday.
• 1977: United Nations Peace Prize.
• 1977: Handel Medallion. New York City.
• 1978: Kennedy Center Honors.
• 1980: Half-ounce gold commemorative medal with her likeness coined by the U.S. Treasury Department.
• 1981: George Peabody Medal.
• 1984: First recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award. City of New York.
• 1986: National Medal of Arts. Awarded by President Ronald Reagan.
• 1991: Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
• Honorary doctoral degrees from Howard University, Temple University and Smith College.
Compiled from www.anothershadeofcolor.com, http://www.blackfacts.com/search.aspx Women in History. Marian Anderson biography (Last Updated: 2/13/2013. Lakewood Public Library. Date accessed 2/13/2013), http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/ande-mar.htm, and Wikipedia.