Marian Anderson was an American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. Most of her singing career was spent performing in concert and recital in major music venues and with famous orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965. She made many recordings that reflected her broad performance repertoire of everything from concert literature to lieder to opera to traditional American songs and spirituals.
Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid-twentieth century. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. The incident placed Anderson 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, 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. Anderson continued to break 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.
Anderson worked for several years as a delegate to the United Nations 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. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
In 1924, Marian Anderson purchased her first residence on 762 South Martin Street in South Philadelphia. Today, this 2-story house has become a museum dedicated to her legacy, filled with memorabilia and rare photos of the infamous contralto.
This month, beginning on what would be her 120th birthday, the Marian Anderson Museum will introduce a brand new exhibit called “Marian & the People.” This unique living history tour will let guests experience a day life of Marian herself. Visitors will learn about her career, her influence, and the connections she had with many of the great archetypes of the 20th century.
On the exhibit’s opening day on Saturday, February 25th, visitors can enjoy live performances, a dessert bar, and much more at a discounted admission of only $5. To get there, hop SEPTA Route 17. Plan your trip here.
Interested in learning more about African American history and culture in Philadelphia? Check out our Black History Month Blog for more destinations that celebrate the legacy of African Americans on our city.