Marian Anderson: Passionate, Talented Musical Prodigy

Written by Tinaya Sallie

Marian Anderson is best remembered for her outstanding musical talents and her achievements in the music industry. In 1955, she was the first African-American to perform as a member of the New York City Metropolitan Opera.

Marian’s singing talent was recognized from a very young age. At age 6, she became a member of the Union Baptist Church choir in Philadelphia, PA, where she became referred to as “Baby Contralto.”

At the age of 8, her father, who supported his 3 daughters’ musical growth, bought her a piano.  Unfortunately, he was unable to afford piano lessons, so Marian began to teach herself how to play it. Despite the tragic loss of her father at age 12, she continued with her passion, harnessing all of the skills necessary to pursue a career in music.

Inspired by Marian’s commitment, members of the church and her family raised enough money for her to train under the wing of Giuseppe Boghetti, a well-renowned voice coach of the era.

Her determination ensured that success came. After 2 short years of training, she sang at Lewisohn Stadium in New York after winning a competition organized by the Philharmonic Society.  Soon after, in 1928, she appeared for the first time on stage at Carnegie Hall.  After winning a scholarship from Julius Rosenwald, she embarked on a European tour, and began to warm the hearts of audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

She was invited to perform at the White House by President Roosevelt as the first African-American to receive that honor.  Nevertheless, her success was not appreciated by everyone in society at that time. Perhaps the most symbolic instance of this was when Washington D.C’s Constitution Hall refused to allow her to perform, which led to a public outrage against the “whites only” policies of the time. With the help of Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian was invited to perform at the Lincoln Memorial for a crowd of 75,000 and a live radio audience estimated to be in the millions.

Her career spanned several decades to include singing the national anthem at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Her stature and recognition as an influence in US society eventually led to her receipt of the Medal of Freedom in 1963.

In 1965, she retired from the limelight and began cultivating a farm in Connecticut. She spent the latter years of her life living with her nephew in Portland, Oregon.

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Tinaya Sallie

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