black and white photo of opera singer Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson  1897-1993

When Marian Anderson was born in Philadelphia in 1897, a career as an opera singer was considered out of the question for a black female. Even though her talent was recognized at an early age, her prospects for a career in opera seemed bleak. First, there was her skin color, but second, her parents could not afford to pay for her singing lessons.

Marian Anderson sang beautifully in her church choir and church members put together the money for Marian to study with a noted voice teacher. Her enormous talent was noted and she moved on to study in New York City and then in Europe. By the late 1930s she was back in the U.S. and was invited by Eleanor Roosevelt to perform at the White House. It appears that the Daughters of the American Revolution hadn’t gotten the message since they blocked her subsequent performance at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., leading Eleanor Roosevelt to once again step in and arrange for Marian’s famous concert at the Lincoln Memorial in front of 75,000 people.

In 1955 Marian Anderson became the first African American to perform with the Metropolitan Opera. In 1961 she sang at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963. Marian Anderson remains an inspiration to all young women who wish to follow a career in opera.

“When you stop having dreams and ideals – well, you might as well stop altogether.”

Photo: Carl Van Vechten

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