Marian Anderson, the great contralto, perhaps the most renowned of the 20th century, would have been 115 years old today. She was born in 1897 in Philadelphia.
Anderson came from a working-class family and her father died at an early age from an injury sustained on the job.
After a decade of studying and performing in Europe, Anderson performed at Town Hall in New York. In 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt invited her to perform at the White House, after which Eleanor Roosevelt praised her in a newspaper column.
In the late 1930s, Anderson was denied the right to sing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American revolution. A major struggle ensued in which the Communist Party, the left, and the labor movement played a major role.
In response to the DAR, “Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes (one of the most outspoken supporters of civil rights in the Roosevelt administration) invited Anderson to perform at the Lincoln Memorial.”
Eleanaor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR after the Anderson’s refusal.
Queen Latifah led a tribute to the moment during the Obama inauguration in 2008.
Close to 100,000 attended what a became a major civil rights moment prior to the outbreak of World War 2. The concert was also broacast live on the radio.
“Anderson 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.”
The pioneering contralto went on to hold a number of ambassadorships and awards. In 2005, she became the 28th person honored with a U.S. postage stamp. She died in 1993.