Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Marian Anderson 1897-1993


April 9, 1939

With the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Lincoln Memorial being commemorated yesterday, most of the reflections of the observers and commentators taking part in the day cited the historic 1963 March on Washington as the site's most iconic moment. I would like to offer a different event which occurred twenty-four years earlier which, in my opinion, is just as historic and significant. It involved the historic day when an African American contralto named Marian Anderson sung her heart out underneath the granite likeness of the great emancipator. Arturo Toscanini once said of her that a voice like Marian Anderson's only comes around once every century. He knew what he was talking about.

I wrote the following piece thirteen years ago on the seventieth anniversary of the great event. I need to repeat it again.


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


At 6:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paula Bolyard said...The Most Diverse White House EVER™ has a big problem: There’s been a mass exodus of black staffers, with some complaining about a lack of opportunity and mentoring for minority employees.

According to Politico, “At least 21 Black staffers have left the White House since late last year or are planning to leave soon. Some of those who remain say it’s no wonder why: They describe a work environment with little support from their superiors and fewer chances for promotion.”

They’re calling it “Blaxit”—not to be confused with Blexit, an exit of black people from the Democrat party, headed by conservative commentator Candace Owens.

Many black staffers described a tense work environment with little time off and a lack of opportunities.

“We’re here and we’re doing a lot of work but we’re not decision-makers and there’s no real path towards becoming decision-makers,” a black White House official told Politico. “There is no real feedback and there’s no clear path to any kind of promotions.”

“They brought in a ton of Black people generally to start without ever establishing an infrastructure to retain them or help them be successful,” said another black staffer. “If there is no clear infrastructure of how to be successful, you become just as invisible in this space than [sic] you would be if you were not in it.”

Yet another White House employee said that black people “have not had the best experiences and a lot of that has to do with the dearth of Black leadership.”

“Think about any workplace,” the individual added. “Black folks need some person to go to, to strategize and be a mentor, and we just don’t have as many folks who can be mentors to us.”

I don’t know why “black folks” need mentoring any more than white people do in The Most Diverse White House EVER™, but maybe the obsession with counting black and brown faces isn’t panning out the way it’s supposed to?

Maybe Dave knows why Black folks need more mentoring than white people do.

At 6:52 PM, Blogger Pappyz said...

Trump's cabinet is far from reflecting the racial diversity of the United States
The cabinet has no Hispanics, even though Latinos are the biggest minority in the United States. African Americans lost the ground they gained under President Barack Obama, with one cabinet post compared to five in the Obama cabinet.
Por:: Amaya VerdeyPatricia Vélez Santiago
23 Ene 2017 – 04:01 PM EST

With a large white majority, just one African American and no Hispanics at all, President Donald Trump's cabinet is far from reflecting the racial diversity of the United States.

Whites make up 86.4 percent of the cabinet that Trump, a businessman turned politician, will have to trust on critical issues, followed by Asians at 9.1 percent. One seat remains to be filled – head of the Council of Economic Advisers, viewed as less important compared to an inner circle made up of the secretaries of state, defense and treasury and the attorney general.

Congress has yet to approve 23 Trump nominees.

At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trump is not our President, but nice try.

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Pappyz said...

Went right over your head, not even a nice try.

At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Biden Treasury Secretary: “I Was Wrong About Inflation In 2021″…
A fish rots from the head down.


At 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fish rots from the head down...Biden admits he had no clue shutting down Abbott facility would wreck baby formula production even though CEOs did.



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