Dead People You Should Know: Marian Anderson

by Johanna Baronowitz

Marian Anderson was a singer who paved the way for black opera singers everywhere. Anderson was born on February 27th, 1897, in Philadelphia. She grew up singing in the choir at the Union Baptist Church. When she was eight, she began to teach herself to play piano. Her church raised money to pay for prestigious voice lessons with Giuseppe Boghetti for her after her father died. Two years of training with Boghetti led to her winning a contest to sing at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City. In 1928, Anderson performed at Carnegie Hall for the first time. In 1955, she became the first African American singer to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Even though Anderson’s performances were known around the world, she still was unable to sing at some venues because of her race. Her manager attempted to set up a performance for her at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. in 1939, only to be told that there were no dates available. That could not have been farther from the truth. In fact, the owners of the hall had put a policy in place that only allowed white performers to play. Eleanor Roosevelt ended up inviting Anderson to perform at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday instead. This performance helped set the stage for the civil rights movement.

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