Penn Library

Marian Anderson: A Life in Song

Singing to the Nation

Before Easter Sunday 1939, Marian Anderson had performed in the nation's capital only in churches and schools. Aware of her increasing recognition and popularity, manager Sol Hurok believed that it was time to select concert venues in the places where all the best performers appeared. In Washington, D.C., that place was Constitution Hall. Ironically, just the year before, Ms. Anderson had given seventy recitals in the United States--at that time, the longest, most intensive tour in concert history for any singer. She had also made her initial tour of the southern states and received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Howard University.

When the management for the owners of Constitution Hall--the Daughters of the American Revolution--realized that a booking was being sought for a "singer of color," it refused to allow the performance to go forward. Public shock and outrage were so great that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the D.A.R. and Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes formally invited Marian Anderson to appear in the open, singing from the Lincoln Memorial before as many people as would care to come, without charge. The event on the ninth of April drew a crowd of 75,000 (the largest to date ever assembled at the Memorial) and was broadcast to a listening audience of millions. Although a difficult and painful incident for Ms. Anderson, it remains a touchstone for all those who have struggled to gain racial equality in the United States. In July 1939 she received the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP. It was presented by Eleanor Roosevelt.

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