(singer; born February 27, 1897, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Most Americans best remember Marian Anderson for her conscience-grabbing concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939 after she was denied the use of Constitution Hall, an arena that, from 1935 to 1952, opened its doors to white artists only. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, appalled at the Hall’s racist action, opened the Lincoln Memorial for Anderson’s concert. As Abraham Lincoln’s statue watched over her from behind, Anderson gave an extraordinary performance that will go down in history as one of the most dramatic civil-rights spectacles ever.
Growing up in Philadelphia’s “Negro quarter” in a single rented room with her parents and two sisters, Anderson overcame racial and economical boundaries to become a highly acclaimed contralto. At the age of six, Anderson sang in the choir of the Union Baptist Church, where she became known as “baby contralto.” Despite her sporadic musical education, the unique sound and extraordinary range of her voice continued to impress listeners by the time she turned sixteen. In fact, her neighbors were so impressed that they raised enough money for her to study under Guisepe Boghetti, a well-known voice teacher.
While studying under Boghetti, Anderson won the opportunity to sing at the Lewisohn Stadium in New York by entering a contest held by the New York Philharmonic Society. She also received a Julius Rosenwald scholarship allowing her to train abroad in England, France, Belgium, Holland, the former Soviet Union, and Scandinavia. In 1935 her performance at the Salzburg festival earned her worldwide recognition and a compliment from Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini, who told her, “a voice like yours is heard only once in a hundred years.”
Footage from Marian Anderson’s performance on the Lincoln Memorial Steps: