I'm Steve Ember with People in America in VOA Special English. Today, we complete the story of singer Marian
(MUSIC: "der schmied, op. 19/4")
Anderson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the early nineteen hundreds.
She began singing in church. Soon, her rich deep voice became widely known in
loved opera. At that time, however, black singers were not permitted in white
opera companies in the United States. So she performed as a concert artist
instead. Her first concert in New York City was not successful. She felt
defeated and did not sing again in public for many months. Then her mother became
sick. Anderson knew she would have to work to keep her family together. Singing
was her work.
In the nineteen twenties Marian Anderson won two singing
competitions. She sang in New York with
the Philharmonic Orchestra. This concert
was a huge success. She signed an agreement to perform in other cities. Most of
the time, only black people attended her concerts. When she was in the southern part of the
United States, she was not permitted to stay in hotels for white people. She did not let racial hatred affect her
music. Yet she knew she would never be completely successful until she could
sing for all people.
In nineteen thirty, Marian Anderson received money to
study music in London. In those days,
Europe seemed to be the only place where a black artist could gain recognition.
So Marian traveled to Europe. Many years later, she described her experience
there: "I was made to feel welcome, even at a hotel. People accepted me as
a person. They judged me for my qualities as a human being and an artist . . .
the nineteen thirties, Anderson studied and performed in London and Berlin,
Germany. She gave few concerts at first. Then she was invited to give a series
of concerts in Sweden. The musician Kosti Vehanen played the piano at Marian's
concerts. He said her voice was so powerful that it seemed to come from under
the earth. He described it as a voice that overflowed with a deep, tragic
Marian Anderson had her first great success in Sweden.
The Swedish people loved her voice. They especially liked the spirituals she
sang. Few of them had heard this kind of American music before.
(MUSIC: "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands")
Anderson traveled through the countries of Scandinavia. People praised her
singing everywhere she went. In Helsinki, Finland she sang for the famous
Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. He told her: "The roof of my house is too low
for your voice."
Anderson sang in Scandinavia for
three concert seasons. She sang for the kings of Denmark and Sweden. Finally,
she decided to return to the United States. She said she wanted to test herself
in her own country.
News of her success in Scandinavia did
not mean much to concert hall owners in the United States. They knew black
concert singers were not popular. Anderson was back where she began -- singing
at churches and small gatherings. She decided to go back to Europe. Again, she
was greeted warmly.
The famous Italian orchestra conductor Arturo Toscanini
heard her sing in Austria. After the concert he said: "She has a voice
that one hears only once in a hundred years." Toscanini's comment spread throughout the world
of music. Finally, Marian Anderson was famous. She returned to the United
States and sang all around the country.
In nineteen thirty-five she appeared for the second time at Town Hall in
New York. This time she was a great
(MUSIC: "Don Carlos")
Anderson gave concerts in northern and southern cities. She firmly believed
that her music was the best weapon against racial hatred.
At one concert in the
southern state of Mississippi, Anderson saw that her singing could bring people
together. It had been a long concert. Yet the crowd kept calling for more.
Marian asked the audience to join her in singing one last song. The people
stood. Black people and white people sang together, side by side. The local
newspaper described what happened: "Sometimes the human spirit rises above
itself, above racial prejudice. "
incident became famous around the world. Marian Anderson was to sing in
Washington, D.C. at Constitution Hall. This concert hall was owned by an
organization called the Daughters of the American Revolution, or D.A.R. The
D.A.R. would not permit Anderson to perform in the concert hall because she was
Many people protested, including Eleanor Roosevelt, the
wife of the American president. With
Missus Roosevelt's help, Anderson was able to sing for an even bigger crowd in
Washington. She gave a free concert in the open air, near the Lincoln memorial.
Seventy-five thousand people attended that concert on Easter Sunday, April
ninth, nineteen thirty-nine. Years
later, Anderson described how she felt on that day:
seemed to be people as far as the eye could see. I felt that a great wave of
goodwill poured out from those people. When I saw them, my heart jumped wildly.
I could not talk. I wondered if I would be able to sing. "
Anderson did sing. And seventy-five thousand voices -- black and white --
joined with hers. They sang the national song of the United States. Then they
listened as she sang another song about America.
Country 'Tis of Thee")
In nineteen fifty-five, Marian Anderson was asked to
sing with the New York Metropolitan Opera company. It was the first time a
black singer performed regularly with an American opera group. Marian
Anderson's presence made it possible for other black singers to become opera
singers in the United States.
Marian Anderson received many honors and
awards during her life. In nineteen
fifty-eight she was appointed a delegate to the United Nations, expanding her
job as goodwill ambassador of the United States. She received the Presidential Medal of
Freedom in nineteen sixty-three.
retired from singing two years later.
She lived quietly with her husband, Orpheus Fisher, in the state of
Connecticut. After he died, she lived with her sister's son, orchestra
conductor James DePriest. Marian Anderson died in nineteen ninety-three at the
age of ninety-six.
say she is remembered not only for the quality of her voice, but also because
of the way she carried out her right to be heard.
(MUSIC: "Ave Maria")
This program was written by Shelley
Gollust. It was produced by Lawan
Davis. I'm Shirley Griffith.
I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for People in America in VOA Special