April 9,1939- Marian Anderson Performs At The Lincoln Memorial
On this day, April 9, Easter Sunday 1939, nearly 100,000 people showed up at The Lincoln Memorial in D.C., to hear famous African-American contralto Marian Anderson give a free concert.
Anderson had been scheduled to give a recital at Washington D.C.’s Constitution Hall, but the Daughters of the American Revolution, a political organization that helped manage the concert hall, denied her the right to perform because she was black.
Eleanor Roosevelt, resigned her membership from the organization in protest, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Walter White, head of the NAACP, plus Anderson’s manager, impresario Sol Hurok, persuaded Secretary Of The Interior Harold L. Ickes to invite her to do a free open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Anderson had struggled out of a childhood of poverty in South Philadelphia to become a world-renowned singer of Classical Music and Opera, starting in the 1920s and touring extensively in Europe during the 1930s. Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini told her: “Yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years…”
Yet, Anderson wasn’t as well received in her own country as she was in the rest of world. Even after her dramatic appearance at the Lincoln Memorial, it was not until 1955 that she became the first African-American perform at the Metropolitan Opera House. Three years later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made her an honorary delegate to the United Nations. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy awarded her the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, our country’s highest civilian honor.
She had been living in my city of Portland with her gay nephew, Oregon Symphony conductor James DePreist, when she took her bow. She left us on this day, April 9, in 1993. She was 96-years-old.