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Marian Anderson

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Biography

Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) was an African-American contralto best remembered for her performance on Easter Sunday, 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Anderson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She joined a junior church choir at the age of six, and applied to an all-white music school after her graduation from high school in 1921, but was turned away because she was black. The woman working the admissions counter replied, “We don’t take colored” when she tried to apply. Consequently, she continued her singing studies with a private teacher.

She debuted at the New York Philharmonic on August 26, 1925 and scored an immediate success, also with the critics. In 1928, she sang for the first time at Carnegie Hall. Her reputation was further advanced by her tour through Europe in the early 1930s where she did not encounter certain racial prejudices she had experienced in America. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius dedicated his Solitude to her. In 1935 impresario Sol Hurok took over as her manager and was with her for the rest of her performing career.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall because of her race. The District of Columbia, then under the control of the Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, also banned her for the same reason from using the auditorium of a white public high school. As a result of the furor which followed, thousands of DAR members, including the President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, resigned.

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