Historical Markers
Marian Anderson Historical Marker
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Marian Anderson

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Union Baptist Church, 1910 Fitzwater Street, Philadelphia

Behind the Marker

Anna Anderson (standing), Alyse (left), Marian (center), Ethel (right)
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Marian Anderson (center) with her mother and sisters Alyse (left), and Ethel...
Early twentieth-century Philadelphia boasted the largest African-American population north of the Mason-Dixon Line. An educated, black elite of caterers, skilled craftsmen, and personal service workers supported a rich musical culture, especially in the areas of classical and religious music. Black Philadelphians had their own symphony orchestra. African-American music teachers and singers, who had learned their craft in church choirs, performed music ranging from the gospel compositions of local minister markerCharles Albert Tindley to the works of Bach. Philadelphia's best-known classically trained black artist was Marian Anderson, one of the great contraltos of the twentieth century.

Born into a poor South Philadelphia family, Anderson demonstrated exceptional musical talent at an early age, performing her first concert at Union Baptist Church while still in elementary school. Sponsored by her family, her church, and a succession of friends and teachers, Anderson received a superb musical education and pursued a concert career, making successful tours of Europe in the early 1930s.
Thousands stand before the Lincoln Memorial, gathered around the reflecting pool.
Marian Anderson (lower left) sings on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to more...

Returning to the United States in 1935, Anderson made her New York debut and won enthusiastic audiences in America. In 1936 she became the first African American to perform at the White House and began a lifelong friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt.

For the next three years, Anderson performed throughout the States, Europe, and South America. Anderson's fame grew in 1939 when the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to permit her to perform at Constitution Hall because she was black.
A man holding a book and a woman singing are on a stage with props.
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Marian Anderson and stage director Herbert Graf, rehearsing at the Metropolitan...

Outraged by their decision, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her DAR membership, and set off a series of events that culminated in Anderson's April 9th performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to an audience of 75,000, which included much of the nation's political elite.

Broadcast on radio to millions, Anderson's performance symbolized African Americans' ongoing struggle for racial equality. Later that year, Eleanor Roosevelt presented Anderson with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Spingarn Medal, awarded annually for outstanding achievement by a black American.

With her popularity well established, Anderson continued her musical career, performing throughout the country and abroad. Anderson again drew international attention when she became the Metropolitan Opera Company's first black soloist in 1955.

In the years that followed, she performed at two presidential inaugurations and received a host of honors, including appointment by President Eisenhower in 1958 as an alternate delegate to the United Nations. Best known for her performance of African-American spirituals, Anderson was gifted with great volume and a striking quality of voice. Indeed, Toscanini called hers "the voice that comes once in a hundred years."

After her retirement, Anderson remained active as a public speaker, recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees, and promoter of education for African Americans in the performing arts. Marian Anderson died at her home in Connecticut on April 8, 1993.
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