Marian Anderson February 27, 1897- April 8, 1993
Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother, Singer, leader, Activist she is one of the most celebrated contralto singer of the twentieth century. Most of her career was spent touring and performing in concert which included recital in major music venues and with famous orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965. She is recipient of numerous awards and medals, including assignments as Ambassador.
Marian Anderson was born on February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the daughter of John Berkley Anderson and the former Annie Delilah Rucker. Her father sold ice and coal at the Reading Terminal in downtown Philadelphia and eventually opened a small liquor business as well. Her mother was an educator. She was the eldest of the three sisters the others were, Alice 1899–1965 and Ethel 1902–1990.
As a youngster she attended Stanton Grammar School, graduating in the summer of 1912. Her family, however, could not afford to send her to high school, nor could they pay for any music lessons. Still, Anderson continued to perform wherever she could and learn from anyone who was willing to teach her. Throughout her teenage years, she remained active in her church’s musical activities. After showing her full passion she was given by Reverend Wesley Parks, along with other leaders of the black community sent her for professional singing lesson with Mary S. Patterson and to attend South Philadelphia High School, from which she graduated in 1921.
Marian after graduating applied to an all-white music school, the Philadelphia Music Academy. She was not accepted b because she was black. The woman working the admissions counter replied, “We don’t take colored” when she tried to apply.
Sher pursued her passion and went on to study privately with Giuseppe Boghetti and Agnes Reifsnyder in her native city through the continued support of the Philadelphia black community. She met Boghetti through the principal of her high school. When she auditioned for him her song of choice was ‘Deep River’ and Giuseppe was immediately brought to tears.
In 1925 Marian received her first big break when she won first prize in a singing competition sponsored by the New York Philharmonic. As the winner she got to perform in concert with the orchestra on August 26, 1925, a shocking performance that scored immediate success with both audience and music critics. She resided and remained in New York to pursue her passion and further studies with Frank La Forge. During the time Arthur Judson, whom she had met through the NYP, became her manager. Over the next several years, she made a number of concert appearances in the United States, but racial prejudice prevented her career from gaining much momentum. In 1928, she sang for the first time at Carnegie Hall. Eventually she decided to go to Europe where she spent a number of months studying with Sara Charles-Cahier before launching a highly successful European singing tour.
Although offered roles with many important European opera companies, she was reluctant and declined all for she had no formal training in acting. Her preference was to perform in a large venue concert and recital only.
She was an Activist and became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid-twentieth century.
In the year of 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution was refused permission for Marian to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. This incident catapulted her into the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician. With the aid of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marian Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. She sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. During World War II and the Korean War, Marian Anderson entertained troops in hospitals and bases.
On July 17, 1943, in Bethel, Connecticut, Anderson became the second wife of a man who had asked her to marry him when they were teenagers, architect Orpheus H. Fisher (1900–86) By this marriage she had a stepson, James Fisher, from her husband’s previous marriage. The couple purchased a 100-acre (0.40 km2) farm in Danbury, Connecticut. Throughout their marriage Orpheus built many smaller constructions on the property that became known as Marianna Farm, including an acoustic rehearsal studio he designed for her.
Marian continued to break all 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. Her performance as Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi s Un ballo in maschera at the Met was the only time she sang an opera role on stage. In 1957, she sang for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration and toured India and the Far East as a goodwill ambassadress through the U.S. State Department and the American National Theater and Academy. She traveled 35,000 miles (56,000 km) in 12 weeks, giving 24 concerts. After that, President Eisenhower appointed her as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The same year, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1958 she was officially designated delegate to the United Nations, a formalization of her role as “goodwill ambassadress” of the U.S. which she had played earlier.
On January 20, 1961 she sang for President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, and in 1962 she performed for President Kennedy and other dignitaries in the East Room of the White House, She was active in supporting the civil rights movement during the 1960s, giving benefit concerts for the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the America-Israel Cultural Foundation.
In 1965, she christened the nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine, USS GeorgeWashington Carver. That same year Anderson concluded her farewell tour, after which she retired from public performance. The international tour began at Constitution Hall on Saturday October 24, 1964, and ended at Carnegie Hall on April 18, 1965.
Marian worked for several years as a delegate to the United Nations on the Human Rights Committee and as a “goodwill ambassadress” for the United States Department of State, giving concerts all over the world. She participated in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, singing at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1939; She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit in 1973;the United Nations Peace Prize, New York City’s Handel Medallion, and the Congressional Gold Medal, all in 1977; Kennedy Center Honors in 1978; the George Peabody Medal in 1981 the National Medal of Arts in 1986, during that same year her husband Orpheus passed away. She then received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991. In 1998 an Award was established in her name going to an established artist who exhibits leadership in a humanitarian area.
Marian resided at a 50-acre farm, having sold half of the original 100 acres. She constructed a three-bedroom ranch house as a residence, and she used a separate one-room structure as her studio. In 1996 the farm was named one of 60 sites on the Connecticut Freedom Trail. The studio was moved to downtown Danbury as the Marian Anderson studio.
As a town resident she was very humble. She did not put her superstardom before anyone. She treated everyone with respect and was not intimidating in any aspect. She was known to visit the Danbury State Fair. She sang at the city hall on the occasion of the lighting of Christmas ornaments. She gave a concert at the Danbury High School. She served on the boards of the Danbury Music Center and supported the Charles Ives Center for the Arts the Danbury Chapter of the N.A.A.C.P.
In 1986, Marian husband, Orpheus Fisher, died after 43 years of marriage. She did remain in residence at Marianna Farm until 1992.
One year prior to her death. Marianna Farm was sold to developers, various preservationists as well as the City of Danbury fought to protect Anderson’s studio. Their efforts and petitions worked and the Danbury Museum and Historical Society received a grant from the State of Connecticut, relocated the structure, restored it, and opened it to the public in 2004.
Marian Anderson died of congestive heart failure on April 8, 1993, at age 96 in Portland, Oregon at her nephew James DePriest home who is also in the music field as a conductor.
Marian Anderson grave site is at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania.
Marian was a true leader a lady who reinvented herself over and over again through believing in herself and passion, and gift. She was an inspiration in her era and today and for the generations to come.