Marian E. Anderson was born on 27 February 1897 and she represents one of the great musical treasures of this city.
Marian’s musical education and performing experience were the product of personal, familial and communal determination and faith. 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. She was financially supported by the church and the community to take up canto lessons, first with soprano Mary Saunders Patterson in around 1915, then with contralto Agnes Reifsnyder between 1916 and 1918, then finally with Giuseppe Boghetti in 1920.
Her first public performances started with 1914 and her first solo performances in 1917.
She ventured in Europe for a musical career, with her manager at the time - Arthur Judson- who insisted that she switch her training and work to that of a soprano- something that would only shorten rather than augment her performing career.
One of her most famous performances was at Salzburg Festival, where conductor Arturo Toscanini discovered her and claimed that ” a voice like hers is heard only once in a hundred years. “
In an interview held recently by PBS NEWSHOUR, Marian Anderson’s nephew James DePriest, who is also the music director and conductor of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, he describes her voice as a three octave instrument : “Marian Anderson’s voice was so rich, so dark, so beautiful, you could be moved because every word that she sang had meaning. And it just got to you. You got goose pimples when you heard her voice. (…) contraltos, in general, I think are rare, and hers was big, luscious, warm, inviting. She had a voice that it’s really hard to describe in many ways because it just moved you tremendously. She had fantastic repertoire. She was able to do arias, operatic arias. She did Leder, beautiful Schubert Leder. Of course, her spirituals were unbelievable.”
Marian was fabulous in a modest way, she never tried to stand out among the other performers. She would just let the audience judge and discover who she was by what her voice transmitted.
Marian Anderson, contralto, was denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall by the DAR because of her color. Instead, and at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt, Harold Ickes permitted her to perform at the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939. Here’s a link of the event: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAONYTMf2pk