Banned from Constitution Hall, Washington DC

Marian Anderson was one of the great singers of the 20th century. Classically trained, her contralto voice was considered one of the most beautiful of her day and she became nationally and internationally known through both her recitals and opera performances. In 1939, her manager, Sol Hurok, booked her for a performance in Washington, DC’s Constitution Hall, the premier venue for performances in the nation’s capital. When the Daughter’s of the American Revolution (DAR), who owned Constitution Hall, learned that a booking was being made for “a singer of color” they refused to let her sing.

There was an immediate outcry–First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, resigned from the DAR and arrangements were made for Anderson to give a public, free performance at the Lincoln Memorial. On April 9, 1939, over 75,000 people heard Anderson sing and it was also broadcast live over the radio to an estimated one million listeners. In addition to some traditional arias, Anderson also sang a memorable version of “My County ‘Tis of Thee.”

In this second video/slide show, you can here the speech of Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, in a moving introduction of Anderson:

 

 

You can learn more about the life and work of Marian Anderson and hear examples of her singing from an exhibit at the library at University of Pennsylvania.

Additional sources: AfroCentric Voices in Classical Music; Kennedy Center