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This Day In History: February 27th
Famed contralto Marian Anderson began to take the music world by storm during the 1920s and enjoyed a career that spanned more than four decades. Despite facing racial barriers of the time, Anderson managed to garner fans from around the world and also became one of the first Black musicians to perform at the White House.
She was born on February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her musical talents were clear from an early age, but her family could not afford to pay for formal lessons. Rather, Anderson joined the Union Baptist Church choir and soon received the nickname “Baby Contralto.” She was a dedicated choir member, which prompted the congregation to raise funds for Anderson to receive training from respected vocalist Giuseppe Boghetti.
In 1925, Anderson’s career began to shift after winning first place in a competition that allowed her to perform at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Just three years later, she performed at Carnegie Hall for the first time. Anderson made her international debut in 1930 and continued to tour Europe for the next five years.
Upon her return to the United States, Anderson was invited to perform at the White House under the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. Although Anderson was successful in her White House debut, the singer still faced discrimination throughout her career. In 1939, Anderson sought to perform at Constitution Hall, but the Daughters of the American Revolution (the owners of the hall) refused to provide her with any dates of availability.
Once the public learned of this information, many people gathered behind Anderson to support her. Eleanor Roosevelt even got involved and invited her to perform at the Lincoln Memorial for the Easter holiday. She performed with a live crowd of more than 75,000 people and it was broadcasted to millions of radio listeners.
Anderson achieved another first in 1955 when she became the first Black singer to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera. Two years later, she published her autobiography, “My Lord, What a Morning” (1957). During this time, she was also made a U.S. delegate to the United Nations.
By 1965, Anderson was ready to retire from the stage and tend to her farm in Connecticut. Her beloved voice allowed her to grace stages in Berlin, Sweden, Denmark and many other places. She has received numerous honors, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), an induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame (1973), the National Medal of Arts (1986) and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1991).
Marian Anderson died on April 8, 1993, in Portland, Oregon.