Marian Anderson,“the best opera singer in the world,” was bom in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, where she picked up an inter¬ est in singing from her parents, who both sang in church. Mari¬ an joined the junior chorus at the Union Baptist Church, stud¬ ied under her father, and was acknowl¬ edged as an upcoming star by the age of eight.
After singing her way through elemen¬ tary school, Anderson joined the Philadel¬ phia Choral Society in high school. When she was a senior, her church congregation sponsored her professional training with world-renowned voice teacher Giuseppe Boghetti. They worked together continually as student and mentor until Boghetti’s death.
After being refused by an all-white voice school, Anderson went professional. She performed at the Town Hall in New York City when she was 20, but learned one of her most valuable lessons when she entered the performance ill-prepared, and sang so poorly that she considered quitting.
After suffering this disappointment, she decided to work even harder, entering a competition in 1925, and winning the Lewisohn Stadi¬ um Concert Award. Her career had official¬ ly begun.
Anderson soloed with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. She toured nation¬ ally, and then internationally. In South America, Asia and the United States, Mari¬ an Anderson played exclusively to sold out houses.
Her critics began to publish state¬ ments like: “what I heard today one is priv¬ileged to hear only in a hundred years.” She had reached a pinnacle of international appeal, but one event in 1939 made her more than a brilliant contralto, it made her a symbol of African- American pride.
Though Anderson had studied with the world’s greats and even played Carnegie Hall, when Howard University sought to bring her to Constitu¬ tion Hall in Washing¬ ton, DC, the Daugh¬ ters of the American Revolution (DAR) rejected the request based on Marian Anderson’s race.The protest was deafening. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR. Eloquent letters, both proud and outraged, hit papers all over the nation.
The Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, with the help of Eleanor Roosevelt, scheduled a new appear¬ ance at the Lincoln Memorial, and 75,000 people came to hear the world’s best living singer perform “The Star-Spangled Ban¬ ner,” “America,” and “My Soul is Anchored in the Lord.” Marian Anderson found her¬ self a symbol for more than excellence.
She was proof that African-Americans could unite as a powerful coalition, and that white Americans were willing to join them in the fight for equality.Marian Anderson retired in 1965, after accepting awards from the King of Sweden and the Emperor of Japan, after becoming the first African-American member of the Metropolitan Opera, and after singing at the inaugurations of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.