Marian Anderson (center)
Department of the Interior Building
January 6, 1943
Marian Anderson was an American contralto. Born in 1897, her dad sold ice in the summer and coal in the winter and later opened a liquor establishment. Her mom worked as a schoolteacher and attended the Virginia Seminary and College in Lynchburg, Virginia. Marian had two sisters who also were singers, but neither were nowhere near as famous as herself.
As early as six years old, Anderson was singing as a paid performer at local area functions. She also sang in church. After graduating from high school, continued studying music. Living across the river from the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden was a good thing. It made it easy for her to record two sides for them.
At the age of 28, she won a contest and got to sing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1928, she sang at Carnegie Hall. Two years later, she went to Europe and sang throughout the continent. Several years later, she returned to America and made her first appearance at New York's Town Hall in 1935.
Marian Anderson toured through South America in 1937 and 1938. In 1939, she was attempted to be booked into Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. Sponsored by Howard University, her manager was told that the venue was booked. They requested other dates. Again, they were told that they were booked. However, they later found out those same dates were available to white performers.
Secretary of the US Interior, Harold Ickes, arranged for her to sing in front of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000 to 100,000 people with many times that amount hearing her live on national radio. That was April 9, 1939. Two months later, she was invited to the White House to sing for the King and Queen of England.
In the summer of 1943, she was married to Orpheus Fisher, a Wilmington, Delaware architect. The couple had known each other since their high school days in South Philly. The two lived on a farm in Connecticut.
After the Second World War, she was able to resume her tour across the ocean. She performed with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City during 1955. She was the first African-American to sing with them. In 1957, she sang at the inauguration of Dwight Eisenhower and later when on tour as a goodwill ambassador on behalf of the United States. A documentary of that trip was aired over CBS-TV. The next year, she was appointed the alternate delegate from the US to the United Nations.
In January of 1961, she sang at another inaugural, this one was for President John Kennedy. In October of 1964, she sang at Constitution Hall in Washington. That was the start of her farewell tour. A year later, she sang at Carnegie Hall. In 1965, she returned to Philadelphia to sing at the Robin Hood Dell with her nephew, James DePriest conducting.
Anderson continued to live in Connecticut until 1992. She spent her last year living with DePriest and his wife, Ginnette. She passed away in April of 1993. Her remains are buried in Eden Cemetery near Philadelphia.
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