Marian Anderson (1897-1993)

February 7, 2022 | By: Communications Staff

To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve created a series of book lists centered around important African American authors and artists to share each week.

Marian Anderson (1897-1993)

Marian Anderson was one of the greatest female singers in history. Her contralto vocal range had a deep, rich tone. She grew up in poverty, but her congregation, the Union Baptist Church in Philadelphia, raised money for voice lessons. Her natural talent and training led her to tour Europe extensively, even performing for royalty.

Anderson did not set out to become a civil rights icon. When the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to let her perform at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. in 1939 because of their “white performers only” policy, however, it sparked widespread outcry. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR in protest. This brought international attention to the injustice. The Roosevelt administration arranged for Anderson to perform at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. Her outdoor recital, including “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” classical selections, and African-American spirituals, was broadcast to a national radio audience.

Anderson continued to tour nationally and internationally until her 1965 retirement. She was the first African-American singer with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In the late 1950’s, she served as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and as a Goodwill Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State. Among her numerous awards and distinctions are the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963) and the Congressional Gold Medal (1977).

In 1957, Anderson received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN. An autographed copy of her autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, is part of the College’s Rare Book Collection.

Want to be in the know with the latest library news?