Marian Anderson

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Anderson, Marian

Anderson, Marian, 1897–1993, American contralto, b. Philadelphia. She was the first African American to be named a permanent member of the Metropolitan Opera Company, as well as the first to perform at the White House. Anderson first sang in Philadelphia church choirs, then studied with Giuseppe Boghetti. She began her concert career in 1924 and achieved her first great successes in Europe. Her rich, wide-ranged voice was superbly suited to opera, lieder, and the spirituals that she included in her concerts and recordings. In 1939, when the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow her to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., Eleanor Roosevelt publicly resigned her DAR membership in protest against the racist snub and sponsored Anderson's landmark concert at the Lincoln Memorial. In 1955 Anderson made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera. She was appointed an alternate delegate to the United Nations in 1958 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.


See her autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning (1956); biography by A. Keiler (2000); R. Arsenault, The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America (2009).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Anderson, Marian


Born Feb. 17, 1902, in Philadelphia. American operatic and concert singer (contralto). Negro by origin.

Marian Anderson studied singing with M. Patterson and G. Boghetti. She began her concert career after receiving first prize in a competition for vocalists in New York (1925). She performed on tour in many countries, including the USSR in 1934–35. Endowed with a lovely, powerful voice of unusually large range and a distinguished musical talent, she performs works of diverse character and style. Her repertoire includes works by J. S. Bach, L. Beethoven, J. Brahms, G. Mahler, G.Gershwin, F. Schubert, R. Schumann, and other composers, as well as Negro folk songs. She made her debut on the operatic stage in 1955 (Ulrica in Verdi’s The Masked Ball). She was the first Negro singer to appear at the Metropolitan Opera (New York).


My Lord, What a Morning. New York, 1956.


Vehanen, K. Marian Anderson. . . . New York, 1941.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Anderson, Marian

(1902–93) contralto; born in Philadelphia. Anderson grew up singing in a church choir, and at age 19 she began formal study. In 1925 she won a major vocal competition in New York City that gained her a career as a recitalist, but was always constricted by the limitations placed on African-American artists. In the 1930s she traveled across Europe and America, finding acclaim as perhaps the greatest living contralto. Her most electrifying moment came in 1939, when she was refused permission to sing in Washington's Constitution Hall because of her race; instead, she sang at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, for an audience of 75,000. In 1955 she became the first African-American singer to appear at the Metropolitan Opera. Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, Anderson spent the next two years in a worldwide farewell tour.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.