Thursday, April 09, 2009

April 9, 1939

Marian Anderson probably never intended to become a civil rights icon. All she ever wanted out of life was to sing.

Almost everyone is under the impression that the modern civil rights movement began on that December afternoon in 1955 when an exhausted Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man. They're off by almost seventeen years. December 1, 1955 merely marked the day the child went out into the world for the very first time. April 9, 1939 was the moment she breathed her first breath.

Marian Anderson was born on February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia to John Berkley Anderson and the former Annie Delilah Rucker. Although throughout her long life she made her name known across the planet as a singer of immense talent, it is a single incident on Easter Sunday 1939 - seventy years ago today - for which she is most remembered

It was apparent early on to her Aunt Mary that little Marian had a remarkable voice. The woman encouraged the little girl by taking her to music events all across the city - those that allowed black people to attend. When her father died after accidentally being struck in the head in a job-related accident, she, her mother and two sisters went to live with her paternal grandparents. It was at this time that she became more involved in singing through her church, Union Baptist in south Philadelphia.

In 1915 at the age of eighteen, she applied for admittance into the Philadelphia Music Academy but was told that the school was closed to her because of the color of her skin (Oh, I'm sorry, have I mentioned it yet? Marian Anderson was an African American. Thank Heaven we are light years past the day when we would refer to Nat King Cole as the "negro singer" or Dick Gregory as the "negro comedian"). According to her biography on Wikipedia:

"Marian's High School principal offered to help her and enabled her to meet a very respected, talented music teacher, Giuseppe Boghetti. Marian auditioned for him by singing Deep River, and the old professor was moved to tears by what he heard. Undaunted, Miss Anderson perused private studies with Boghetti and Agnes Reifsnyder in her native city through the continued support of Philadelphia's black community."

In 1925 the New York Philharmonic sponsored a singing competition and Marian, age twenty-eight, easily took home first prize. Three years later would find her singing on the stage of Carnegie Hall. In the nineteen-thirties she embarked on a successful European Tour. It was at this time that she met the Finnish pianist, Kosti Vehanen who would be her regular accompanist for many years. The late thirties would find Marian back in her native land giving an average of seventy concert performances a year.

In the Spring of 1939 she sought the permission of the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing in the auditorium they owned, Constitution Hall. Previously, there had been Negro artists who performed in that venue. However when the African American citizens of Washington complained about the unfairness of having to watch black musicians and singers from the vantage point of segregated seats in the back of the hall, the D.A.R. - instead of doing the right thing by integrating the place - decided to initiate a ban on all artists of color.

That was all the First Lady needed to hear. When Eleanor Roosevelt learned of this nauseatingly stupid development, she immediately resigned her membership in that organization. She then contacted the Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, and persuaded him to to arrange for Miss Anderson to give a recital at the Lincoln Memorial.

On that chilly Easter Sunday of 1939, with the ever-loyal Kosti Vehanen accompanying her on the piano, Marian Anderson sang before an unprecedented audience of seventy-five thousand men, women and children, black and white. As she performed My Country 'Tis of Thee and Schubert's Ave Maria under the statue of the great emancipator, who among the great multitude gathered there at that historic moment would have dared to realize that they were witnessing the first motion in a chain of events that would lead to (but certainly not end with) an African American sitting in the chair that seventy years ago today was occupied by Eleanor Roosevelt's husband?

And to think that it all started on April 9, 1939.

Marian Anderson's career would flourish until her retirement a quarter of a century later. On January 7, 1955, she became the first black person to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera. In 1957 and 1961 she sang at the inaugurations of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy respectively. On August 28, 1963, the day Martin Luther King declared to the world, "I have a dream....", she sang at the March on Washington - at the same location where she had made history twenty-four years before. During that same year, she was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1965 when she launched her Farewell Tour, it was from the stage of Constitution Hall. To be sure, there were no hard feeling's on Marian's part. As she said at the time: "You lose a lot of time hating people."

Marian Anderson was ninety-six years old when she passed from this life, ever so quietly, on April 8, 1993, at the Oregon home of her nephew, the noted conductor James DePreist.

Nearly twelve years after her death, on January 27, 2005, the United States Postal Service announced that they were honoring the memory of Marian Anderson by issuing a thirty-seven cent stamp with her image on it. The ceremony that marked this event was held at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. It was hosted by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

So much had changed.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

To hear a recording of Marian Anderson's performance of Schubert's Ave Maria on that historic day seventy years ago, click the link below:


My Lord, What a Morning: 
The autobiography of Marian Anderson
For more insane commie ravings from this subversive lunatic Tom Degan, please go to the following link:



At 12:08 PM, Blogger Dearest Friend said...

Can't wait to read the rest! You know the part about that great first-lady and humanitarian, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and what she did for all of us at that time.

Truly fitting on Holy Thursday to feature Miss Anderson's magnificent version of Ave Maria. Thank you.

Will check back later!


At 12:40 PM, Anonymous GRR said...

Speaking of Ave Maria...this is just too good.

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

GRR - That was incredible! Just fantastic!

Thanks so much for sharing it with us! Everybody, when you have a moment or two, take a look at it!

Love and Peace,

Tom Degan

At 3:55 PM, Blogger charles moore said...

Hi Tom,

As a musician, I want to than you for honoring the memory of this grand lady.

One comment that I particularly like came from a Houston music critic: "And there, you thought, but for the Grace of God, stood somebodys negro cook."

Her nephew DePriest said that for years afterwards when asked for their memory of the occasion, many people said that it was the first time they had ever seen an African American woman wearing a fur coat.

At 1:00 AM, Blogger Dearest Friend said...

Absolutely Beautiful - like the subjects themselves.

You get an "A" in history class today!

I'm proud of you! And proud of that beautiful Miss Anderson - we do have some truly special people who came from Philadelphia! She is one person we are all very proud of here in the Philadelphia area...and always will be.

Thanks for the lovely reminder.


At 10:57 AM, Anonymous GRR said...

Hi Tom...

I don't not want to sully your tribute with negativity, so I'll just point you to this article, for your reference.

Do we have t wait two years to know which end is up?

Isn't it as plain as the nose on our faces?

Happy Easter, regardless.

In Vermont, the daffodils are finally announcing warmer weather.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Thank you for that link, GRR. When will they realize that this situation is hopeless? Sooner or later - later rather than sooner.

Tom Degan

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...


The other day, I did a google news search on the name "Marian Anderson". To my utter astonishment, the main stream media let the anniversary pass unnoticed. Although a handful of news services reported on the anniversary concert at the Lincoln Memorial, I was only one of two named writers in the entire country to take notice of it. Incredible.

Tom Degan

At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

I'm not surprised. I had never even heard of her until I read the story about Eleanor in an FDR bio. Eleanor was a real humanitarian and one tough broad.

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...


For a great read on that period, Check out the book, No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns-Goodwin. It is the best biography on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt ever written.


Tom Degan

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Tom, as you mentioned, this past Sunday -- Easter Sunday -- opera star Denyce Graves performed three of the same songs Marian Anderson sang seventy years ago at the Lincoln Memorial. Wearing one of Ms. Anderson's borrowed gowns, Ms. Graves called her predecessor "one of my greatest heroes."

Here's the following morning's Washington Post article.

At 5:38 AM, Anonymous Term paper said...

It’s great to see good information being shared and also to see fresh, creative ideas that have never been done before.


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