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American Music Biography: Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson united opera and civil rights. Find out more about her life and accomplishemnts. Information about her experiences with schools, business, music, and singing.

Marian Anderson was born on February 27, 1897 in South Philadelphia. She early discovered her love for singing, and became a member of the Union Baptist Church Choir as a child. Misfortune first entered her life in 1912, when her father died. Marian, along with her mother and sisters, moved in with her father`s family. Her paternal grandfather was a Jewish convert, adding another layer to Marian`s rich spiritual life.

As her voice matured into a beautiful contralto, she attempted to attend music school in 1917, but was turned away without even an audition, because of her color. Refusing to be discouraged, she began a professional career in music, although in a small way, singing for benefits and church socials. Impressed by her talents, African-American soprano Mary Patterson gave her voice lessons for free, acknowledging the tight financial circumstances Ms. Anderson was in.

She would receive more help from her high school principal, Dr. Lucy Wilson, who arranged an audition with Giuseppe Boghetti. Impressed with her performance of the spiritual "Deep River`, Boghetti agreed to make room for her in his already packed schedule. A well-known musician and instructor, his fee was a very high dollar per lesson, which was far out of the Anderson`s budget. Dr. Wilson responded to this challenge by arranging for a benefit through the Union Baptist Church where enough money was raised to pay for a year`s worth of lessons. Further benefits were unnecessary as Boghetti refused to charge her after that first year of instruction.

Beginning in 1920, Anderson began touring, giving concerts at black colleges and churches. Touring also meant encountering Jim Crow laws, that prevented her from staying in hotels, sitting in good compartments on trains, and being served in many restaurants.

In 1923 she won the Philharmonic Society of Philadelphia`s vocal contest, the first time an African-American had been awarded the prize. As a result, Anderson sang with the Philadelphia Orchestra in a concert broadcast over radio, still a new technology. This triumph was followed by a disastrous concert at the Manhattan Town Hall in 1924, where the reviews were poor, as was the attendance.

Displaying her characteristic determination, Anderson wowed New York just a year later by winning the National Music League contest, and the opportunity to sing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, this time to excellent reviews. Some of the joy of the occasion may have been taken out by reviews that praised her singing as being good despite her color.

For the next five years Marian Anderson sang with the Hall Johnson Choir, a respected group of black singers under the direction of Arthur Judson. The fees were higher than she had been receiving, but the expenses were higher. However, the prestige of the group was considerable, and Anderson considered it worthwhile to obtain.

In 1929 Anderson went to Europe, largely in order to improve her mastery of German, and the German form of the Lieder. Although her concerts were well-received, her career was not greatly aided by the this time in Europe. She returned to the US and the Judson agency for two more years.

A representative from the Julius Rosenwald Fund offered her a fellowship for further study in Europe after listening to her at a Chicago concert in 1931. For the next few years she lived in Germany with a German family, perfecting her mastery of the language and music forms. She began giving concerts in Germany, Norway, and Scandinavia, where "Marian fever" broke out in enthusiastic response to her music. She met such musical luminaries as Sibelius, Sol Hurok, and Arturo Toscanini, all of whom professed themselves her admirers.

She returned to the US for a three-month tour in 1935, to enthusiastic response. Some criticized her using white accompanist Billy King, preferring that she employ an African-American instead. She remained faithful to her choice, though, believing that his loyalty deserved hers.

Back in Europe, she toured the Soviet Union, where she encountered confiscation of record albums, and suspicious guards that demanded she sing for them to prove she was who she stated. Most frustratingly, she was instructed to not sing any type of religious music, which formed a great deal of her programme. She got around this injunction by singing the Ave Maria, but listing it only as `an aria by Schubert`, and her much-loved spirituals she listed as `American Negro songs`. The audience seemed none the wiser, but all loved her performances, and gave an enthusiastic response. Even Stalin came, although he remained unseen in a completely curtained box.

When Marian Anderson returned to the US, she discovered that "Marian Fever" was in force at home as well as Europe. Faced with the happy choice of deciding which concerts to agree to, rather than trying to find some, Anderson was thrilled to be offered an invitation from the Roosevelts . She became the first black singer to do perform at the White House when she did so in 1936.

Honors continued to come her way: 1938 brought an honorary doctorate from Howard University, and 1939 brought the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.

1939 also brought her international prominence of another sort. Sol Hurok had attempted to book Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. for Marian Anderson, the largest auditorium in the city. This hall was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, a prestigious and very socially conservative organization. They refused to allow Marian Anderson to sing at Constitution Hall, or any other black performer. Sol Hurok decided to make the DAR decision known by reporting it to the newspapers. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt publicly resigned from the DAR in protest, and other members followed suit. Throughout the country, people were shocked by the idea that Marian Anderson was not allowed to hire a concert hall.

Hurok asked the DC Board of Education if a concert could possibly be given at Central High School instead, and was refused on the same grounds. The students at all-white Central protested the administration`s decision, and picketed the school, to no avail.

The situation culminated in Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes offering Ms. Anderson the opportunity to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939 at 5 pm. She was not eager to become a symbol, and yet, she had little choice at this point. She agreed to the free concert. On that Easter Sunday, 75,000 people attended of all ages and races to hear her program, which included patriotic and spiritual songs.

The Department of the Interior commemorated the event by commissioning a mural, unveiled a year later. Anderson was present at the unveiling, and then attended a benefit concert afterwards at the request of the DAR and at Constitution Hall.

The next few years combined professional and personal success. In June 1939, she sang at the White House for the King and Queen of England. In July 1943, married architect King Fisher after a twenty-year courtship. Again she encountered racism in trying to buy a home in areas that did not wish to sell to black couples. Eventually, they settled in Danbury, Connecticut, in a large farmhouse that her husband lovingly renamed Marianna Farm and remodeled to suit her needs, including a private studio for rehearsals. In 1944 her Carnegie Hall concert raised $1.7 million for war-bonds, breaking records. Medals and awards from Liberia, Finland, Sweden, and the Women`s Division of Jewish Charities came during the rest of the 1940s.

In 1955 Marian Anderson, now 53, again made history by becoming the first African-American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera. She had wanted to sing opera as a young woman, but her teacher (Giuseppe Boghetti) had discouraged her, knowing that the prevalence of racism would likely keep her from a career in this field, so this was a particularly individual triumph for her as well. Rudolf Bing, the general manager at the Met, offered her the role of Ulrica in Verdi`s The Masked Ball. The role was fairly short, but highly dramatic, and well-suited to Anderson`s talents.

The audience was wildly enthusiastic about her performance, chanting her name over and over again as the curtain was lowered. Despite the policy against solo bows, her fellow performers gave her a nudge towards the stage, so that the audience could be satisfied with another look at this remarkable woman.

From that time on, Anderson`s tours and appearances took on another tone-not only was she a great contralto, but she was a symbol of defeated racism, and American progress.

A deeply religious woman, Anderson greatly enjoyed her 1955 tour of Israel, seeing the homeland of Judaism, her grandfather`s religion, and Christianity, hers. She visited the Dead Sea, the River Jordan, and the site of the city of Jericho.

The following year, she published her autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning to critical success. In 1957 she sang The Star Spangled Banner at Eisenhower`s second inaugeration. That same year the State Department asked her to make a goodwill tour of the East, visiting Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Burma, Pakistan and India. This tour was filmed by renowned newsman Edward R. Murrow and made into the documentary The Lady from Philadelphia.

She joined the US delegation to the United Nations in 1958 at Eisenhower`s request, and joined the Trusteeship Council. This group looked at countries that were moving from being colonies to nations-Anderson`s focus was on the African countries of Togo and Cameroon.

In 1961 she sang at the JFK inaugeration, and in 1963, at his memorial service. She chose spirituals to sing at that event, providing balm to a stricken nation. A few days after the memorial service, LBJ presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for which Kennedy had nominated her.

In October of 1964 she began her last tour by singing again at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, and ending on Easter Sunday, April 19, 1965 at Carnegie Hall. Her last concert included four encores, after which she gracefully left the stage, despite calls from the audience to continue.

Anderson continued working, however. In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson appointed her to the National Council on the Arts, putting her in the position of deciding which candidates best deserved grant money. In 1976 she toured as an actress in Aaron Copland`s A Lincoln Portrait.

On her 75th birthday, a huge celebration was held at Carnegie Hall, where Marian Anderson was awarded the United Nations Peace Prize, the New York City Handel Medallion, and a Congressional Gold Medal (presented by First Lady Rosalynn Carter).

In 1978 she received one of the first Annual Kennedy Awards for a lifetime of achievement in the arts, along with Fred Astaire, George Balanchine, and Richard Rodgers. In 1979 Philadelphia declared August 22 "Marian Anderson Day" and established the Marian Anderson Library and Scholarship Fund at the University of Pennsylvania.

The following years were largely quiet, especially after the loss of her husband in 1986. In 1991 Marian Anderson received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.

In 1993 Marian Anderson died, in the same country in which she had been born, yet very different. No longer were African-Americans turned away from hotels, restaurants, public transportation, or concert halls. With quiet grace, great dignity, and constant faith, she had helped to create these changes in the country that she loved, doing what she loved best.

Written by Kimberly Skopitz -

Wedding music: deciding on the right music for your wedding

The music you choose will set the tone for the whole wedding. Choose music that perfectly complements your wedding`s style.

The reception music sets the tone for the whole affair, so chose music that complements the style of your wedding.


You could hire a live band or a DJ. Which one is better? There are pros and cons to both choices.

A DJ can play a variety of music that will get your guests dancing. He can offer a little something for everyone, from country hits for the farmer in your family, to oldies for granny and pop hits for the young and young at heart. But remember, he can take requests so if you don t want to hear 2Pac at the reception you might consider another route.

A band, whether it s a string quartet or a local rock band, will have a captivating stage presence that a DJ will lack. But the novelty of watching a band will wear off quickly if your guests aren t into the music. If your band is too loud and punk or too boring no one will watch for long. Find out if they know how to play some songs that everyone either know or likes if you want music to be a central part of the reception.

What better than burning a collection of your own CDs? You can listen to all of your favorites all night long. This is a great money saving option but consider the amount of time you ll have to spend agonizing over the perfect play list. Then you ll have to listen to every single one of the songs to make sure they downloaded correctly. You wouldn t want your wedding song to cut off in the middle of your dance would you? Also keep in mind that there will be no one to announce the first dance or encourage people to get on the dance floor during certain songs.


If hiring a band, meet with the musicians beforehand. You might even consider watching them perform live for someone else to make sure they have good presence and engage a crowd.

If hiring a DJ, ask about the selection of music he will be playing from. Talk about the mood you want to set. Do you want all love songs all night or the totally awesome 80s? Perhaps you love music from obscure or local musicians. See if he can provide you with that a play list that includes most of what you want, or ask if he would be willing to play some of your own CDs. Will he be taking requests that aren t on the agreed-upon play list? If you would rather die than hear the Macarena at your wedding, give him a list of songs for which he isn t allowed to accept requests.

Either way, find out if they have performed at weddings before. Seasoned wedding professionals will have a sense of timing. They will know when and how to make announcements and when to play slow songs or fast songs.


How many hours do you get for the price? Does that include ample set up and breakdown time? If it doesn t find out if you can pay for more time and how much that will cost you.

Once you have chosen, remember to call two weeks in advance to confirm the time and place. Don t be afraid to call one week ahead or the day before as well.

Written by Angela McKendree -

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