Penn Library

Marian Anderson: A Life in Song

Musical Partnerships:
Teachers, Coaches, & Accompanists

From her first discovery of the recital song repertory to her mature years as a concert artist, Marian Anderson continuously sought out teachers and collaborators with whom she could best learn and grow.

Ms. Anderson began singing publicly in church when she was six but had no formal music training until the age of seventeen, when she was brought by a family friend to the studio of the soprano Mary Saunders Patterson. The Andersons could ill afford the $1.00 a lesson fee, so Patterson offered to teach the young singer free of charge. After six months--and at Patterson's suggestion--Ms. Anderson moved to the contralto Agnes Reifsnyder, but during her final year in high school she met Giuseppe Boghetti, with whom she maintained a professional relationship until his death in 1941. It was with Boghetti that she made great strides: he analyzed each of the tones in her voice, Ms. Anderson recalled, and systematically worked to create a thoroughly even sound. He especially worked on improving her breathing and expanding her repertory of vocal literature.

Until she began her studies with Ms. Patterson, Marian Anderson served as her own accompanist. At Patterson's urging, however, Marie Holland was engaged and became the first of several pianists with whom Ms. Anderson performed in the early years of her career. Among them was William (Billy) King, who was popular among Philadelphia musicians and who had accompanied the tenor Roland Hayes. The two formed a partnership in the 1920s, which lasted until 1935, when the Finnish pianist Kosti Vehanen, whom Ms. Anderson had met in Europe, joined her in the United States. In 1939, during a tour of the midwest, Vehanen fell ill and was replaced by the German émigré Franz Rupp, who fulfilled the remainder of the tour's engagements. His talents impressed Ms. Anderson, who wrote that Rupp "could transpose a song at sight and could play many of [her] numbers from memory." Not surprisingly, it was Rupp who replaced Vehanen in 1940 when the latter returned to Finland.


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