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Born in 1897
Inducted in 1998
Marian Anderson began to sing at the age of three, and joined the junior choir at the Union Baptist Church in Philadelphia when she was six. By the time she joined the church’s senior choir, at 13, she was able to fill in for soprano, tenor and bass singers because her vocal range spanned three octaves; the church choir’s sponsorship enabled her to begin formal voice lessons with Mary S. Patterson when she was 15. During her high school years Anderson sang in numerous school and church presentations, and became a member of the Philadelphia Choral Society, the organization raised money for her to study with Agnes Reifsnyder and Giuseppe Boghetti; the latter was her teacher for many years and musical advisor to her for the rest of his life.
Boghetti entered Anderson in a New York Philharmonic vocal competition in 1925; she won first prize in a field of 300, and made her Philharmonic debut at Lewisohn Stadium that year. She made her London debut in Wigmore Hall, gave an enthusiastically received recital in Berlin, and sang more than 108 performances within 12 months’ time in Scandinavia; in Finland she sang for Jean Sibelius, who dedicated his song “Solitude” to her.
Anderson made history when Rudolf Bing invited her to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. No black singer had performed with that company before her debut as Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera on January 7, 1955. She opened the doors of the Met for succeeding generations of black singers in starring roles.
She also performed with our leading orchestras, and recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy.
Anderson’s farewell tour began at Constitution Hall in October 1964 and concluded at Carnegie Hall on Easter Sunday the following April. After that, and a few appearances as narrator in orchestral concerts, she retired to her farm in Danbury, Connecticut; she died in her nineties.
Among her numerous awards were the Spingarn Medal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, presented by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1939; in 1941 the $10,000 Edward Bok Award, which Anderson used to fund the Marian Anderson Awards, a scholarship fund for young singers; the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963; a Congressional Gold Medal in 1978; the first Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award of the City of New York in 1986. She sang at the inaugurations of Presidents Eisenhower in 1957 and Kennedy in 1961.
Performer: Marian Anderson (vocal), Franz Rupp (piano)
Courtesy Of: Sony Classical