In 1939 celebrated African-American contralto Marian Anderson was denied rental of Washington, D.C.’s Constitutional Hall because of a segregation clause that only allowed concerts by white artists. Once this news circulated there was public outrage over the discrimination, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt—among thousands of others—resigned membership from the Daughters of the American Revolution, which owned the hall. Roosevelt, along with Anderson’s manager, Sol Hurok, and Walter White of the NAACP, encouraged Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to arrange a free concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, and on April 9, 1939, Anderson performed a concert that included her memorable rendition of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” for 75,000 attendees and millions of radio listeners.
In 1955 Anderson again made history by becoming the first African-American to sing with the New York Metropolitan Opera, and in 1972 was awarded the United Nations Peace Prize for her humanitarian efforts and goodwill ambassador leadership.
Thank you for your bravery and strength, Marian Anderson. You made a difference in all our lives!
—Photo © Bettman/Corbis
From Performing Songwriter Issue 112, Sept/Oct 2008 United We Stand: