Monday at 7:00 pm
The whole debacle was at once a blemish—a shameful legacy—and a source of enormous pride. A gifted American opera singer, a contralto named Marian Anderson, performed at the Paris Opera in 1935; she gave her Carnegie Hall debut later that year, and performed before audiences and royalty throughout Europe. The scandal erupted when the Daughters of the American Revolution barred Ms. Anderson from singing in Constitution Hall, a place where they maintained a strict “white only” policy—Anderson was black.
It was not the first time Anderson had felt the sting of racism. As a girl, she had been denied entrance to the Philadelphia Music Academy in her home town, “We don’t take coloreds.” Throughout her career, she was denied the access and advantages that were extended to white people, including use of hotel rooms and restaurants.
That snub in Washington, however, became a lightning rod for many Americans—an event that caused tens of thousands to stand up at once and embrace their common humanity. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt promptly submitted her resignation to the DAR. Now with the power of the White House at her side, Marian Anderson took a courageous stand, performing at one of America’s most sacred shrines. On Easter Sunday, 1939, the gifted contralto sang to a crowd of 75,000 people with the stately figure of Abraham Lincoln as her backdrop—a concert at the Lincoln Memorial.
Some 16 years later, Marian Anderson became the first African American performer to sing at the Metropolitan Opera; she was in her late 50s.
Marian Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial concert became a rallying point for America’s civil rights movement, and an inspiration in the struggle for human rights everywhere.
Monday’s edition of Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin continues the two-week theme of Black, Brown, and Beige, a wonderful journey through the African legacy in western music. Bill will feature several recordings of Marian Anderson on Monday starting at 7:00 pm.