Brief Summary - An African American operatic and concert singer that was renowned throughout the world for her extraordinary contralto voice. She was the first African American to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. Marian Anderson made her Metropolitan Opera Debut on January 7, 1955. Marian Anderson was one of the most important artists of the 20th century. Her stirring performances of lieder, operatic arias, and traditional spirituals inspired and enthralled audiences worldwide. She was also an important figure in the Civil Rights movement. From her famous Easter Sunday concert at the Lincoln Memorial to her historic integrated concerts in Florida and Texas, Marian's music broke down racial barriers and united people across color lines.
A Jacksonville recital on Wednesday night, January 23, 1952, proved to be one of her first refusals to give a segregated show. Florida history was made. About 100 whites still came, and managers didn't segregate audience members. Anderson enthralled her Jacksonville listeners. The singer closed her concert with "Negro spirituals," deeply moving the audience with her insight and fervor. For days after the Jacksonville recital, Anderson also performed in Boynton Beach while traveling through Florida to integrated audiences ending in Miami. Anderson is a symbol of the struggle for racial equality.
Marian Anderson - A Voice of Hope
Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) was an American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. Music critic Alan Blyth said "Her voice was a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty." Most of her singing career was spent performing in concert and recital in major music venues and with major orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965. Although she was offered contracts to perform roles with many important European opera companies, Anderson declined all of these, preferring to perform in concert and recital only. She did, however, perform opera arias within her concerts and recitals. She made many recordings that reflected her broad performance repertoire of everything from concert literature to lieder to opera to traditional American songs and spiritual. An African-American, Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid twentieth century. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. Their race-driven refusal placed Anderson into the spotlight of the international community on a level usually only found by high profile celebrities and politicians. With the aid of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, in 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. 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 Giuseppe Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at the Met was the only time she sang an opera role on stage.
Prior to the abolition of legalized segregation in the 1950s, African Americans were simply barred from attending cultural events in many parts of the country. Marian Anderson retired from singing in 1965 after an extended farewell tour. Among the honors and rewards she received for her incomparable voice and efforts towards breaking the color barrier for African-American performers was the U.S. National Arts Medal, awarded to her in 1986. Anderson died in 1993 at the age of ninety-six.
Anderson was also an important symbol of grace and beauty during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, singing at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. She also worked for several years as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and as a "goodwill ambassadress" for the United States Department of State. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.