Remembering Marian Anderson

Classic Arts Features   Remembering Marian Anderson
On the 40th anniversary of her farewell concert, Carnegie Hall Archivist Gino Francesconi looks back at the extraordinary life of vocalist Marian Anderson.

Marian Anderson will remain an icon in the story of music in this country, and so it seems particularly fitting to salute her on the 40th anniversary of her farewell recital at Carnegie Hall on April 18, 1965. After nearly 50 years of concertizing, the contralto bade goodbye to the public in the hall to which she had returned most often‹54 times‹since her first appearance in 1920.

Although Anderson thrilled audiences wherever she sang, racial barriers kept her out of a number of concert halls in the United States. Touring Europe in the 1930s, she found both wider acceptance and still greater success. Jean Sibelius wrote a song for her; impresario Sol Hurok managed her career. In 1939, Hurok failed to secure Anderson a date at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., because of the hall's restrictions against non-white performers. He appealed to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She responded by arranging a free Easter Sunday concert for Anderson in front of the Lincoln Memorial, attended by more than 75,000 people‹black and white. Millions heard it live on the radio. The photo of Anderson singing in front of Lincoln's statue became a symbol of the early civil rights movement. Her gracious, dignified manner and her refusal to perform in segregated theaters, despite the high demand for her appearances, helped break racial barriers. Her Metropolitan Opera debut, in 1955‹the first performance there by an African American‹received one of the longest ovations in the Met's history. In 1960, Isaac Stern invited her to be one of the first board members of the Carnegie Hall Corporation, and she remained a trustee until her death in 1993 at the age of 96.

‹Gino Francesconi
Archivist and Museum Director, Carnegie Hall

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