Marian Anderson During The Harlem Renaissance
?The Century?s Contralto? Marian Anderson, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A variety of sources suggested February 17, 1902 as her birth date, however Anderson?s birth certificate showed differently. On her birth certificate the date listed was February 27, 1897. She was born into a working class family in South Philadelphia. Her family had a few obstacles to overcome, but managed.
Her father John worked selling ice and coal at the Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia. Her mother Anna was a former teacher. Marian had two younger sisters, Alice and Ethel. Anderson?s early schooling was completed at the Stanton Elementary School located at 17th and Christian Streets near her home. Her music career began at the age of six by singing in the choir of Philadelphia?s Union Baptist Church. Shortly after the Christmas of 1910, her father passed away. It forced her and her mother to work to support the family. Even though Marian was now working, she continued to sing with the church choir.
At seventeen, Anderson began to take voice lessons with soprano Mary Saunders Patterson. Soon after she started, Marian sang in many public concerts. Local supporters provided money and funds for study with Agnes Reifsnedier, and then went on to study with Giuseppe Boghetti. At age 23, she entered a competition and won first place over 300 other singers. This resulted in an engagement with the New York Philharmonic at Lewisohn Stadium. The conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra thought the world of Anderson. Toscanini once commented, ?Yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years.? This was all she needed to establish her reputation. Although Anderson was thought of highly by some, others brought about controversy.
In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused Marian the use of Constitutional Hall in Washington D.C. They focused public attention on racism. At that time, Eleanor Roosevelt was a member of the DAR. Eleanor protested on Anderson?s behalf by resigning from DAR. The United States Government then placed the Lincoln Memorial at her disposal for an Easter morning concert. This concert drew over 75,000 people.
In 1942, Marian Anderson established the Marian Anderson Award for talented young singers. Among the recipients were Camilla Williams, Mattiwilda Dobbs, and Grace Bumbry. Soon after forming the award she was married to Orpheus H. Fisher, who was a young architect in 1943. On January 7th, 1955 Anderson sang the part of Ulrica in Verdi?s ?UnBallo in Maschera? at the Metropolitan Opera House, and continued to do so for two seasons.
She was greatly recognized for her talent in many ways. President Eisenhower appointed her a delegate to the 13th General Assembly of the United Nations. She received honorary degrees from more than twenty other American educational institutions, The Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, The Philadelphia Bok Award of $10,000, numerous decorations from many foreign governments, a doctorate of music from Howard University in 1938, and finally in 1963, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She left her mark in the minds of the public, by being the first Negro member of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City. Her voice was notable for its phenomenal intensity, and for its mysterious dark texture particularly in the low register.