By Amy D. Jackson
In the golden corridors of heaven an angel can be heard singing. Its glorious tranquility dissolves into an infinite echo.
On February 27, 1897, Marian Anderson was born to John Berkley Anderson and Annie Delilah Rucker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. John Anderson sold ice and coal at the Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. Her father would eventually open a small liquor establishment although he himself didn’t drink. Annie Anderson was a teacher. She was unable to teach in Philadelphia because she didn’t complete her degree at Virginia Seminary and College This rule only applied to blackeducators. So, Annie Anderson earned money by looking after small children. Marian had two younger sisters Alice (whose spelling would change) and Ethel who too would become singers. The Andersons were a faithful Christian family. The Anderson family attended Union Baptist Church. Six year old Marian was convinced to join the choir by her Aunt Mary. Marian was given solos but often performed duets with her aunt. Anderson attended concerts with her Aunt Mary. She would later credit her Aunt for her career in music. Her aunt would arrange singing gigs for the young Marian who would earn 25 or 50 cents. As Marian grew older her fee rose to about five dollars.
The pivotal moment in Marian Anderson’s life occurred when she was but a girl of twelve. Her father John Anderson was accidentally struck in the head at work a few weeks before Christmas. John Anderson would linger a month before dying of heart failure. Marian and her family moved in with her paternal grandparents. Young Marian would grow attached to her grandfather but he too would die a year later. After graduating from Stanton Grammar School in 1912, Marian was unable to attend high school because of the lack of money. So, Marian would learn music from anyone who would teach her music. Eventually, the pastor and members of Marian’s church would raise the funds she needed to attend high school and train musically with Mary S. Patterson. Marian Anderson graduated from South Philadelphia High School in 1921.
After graduation in 1921, Anderson applied to Philadelphia Music Academy but was turned away because the school didn’t accept “colored” students. Instead she would study music with Giuseppe Boghetti and Agnes Reifsnyder. Marian Anderson’s big chance appeared after she won a competition sponsored by New York Philharmonic. As the winner she performed with an orchestra on August 27, 1925. This stellar performance won Anderson acclaim with the audience and the critics. After obtaining a manger, Anderson would make a number of concert appearances throughout the United States. However, because of racism Anderson’s career was stalled. In 1928, Anderson performed at Carnegie Hall. She went to Europe where she studied with Mme Charles Cahier. In Europe she established a successful singing tour.
In 1934, Sol Hurok offered Anderson a better contract than she had with Arthur Judson. Hurok would manage Anderson for the remainder of her singing career. It was through Hurok’s persuasion that Anderson returned to America. In 1935, Anderson gave her first recital appearance in New York at its Town Hall. Anderson was praised heavily by music critics. Marian Anderson spent the next four years of her life touring both the United States and Europe. European Opera houses offered her roles but she declined due to the lack of acting experience. During the mid 1930s, “Marian Fever” spread throughout Eastern Europe. By the late 1930s, Anderson had given 70 performances in the United States. However, her celebrity did not the erase racial prejudices aimed at her. In 1939, The Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow Anderson to sing for an integrated audience in the Constitution Hall. Because of Anderson’s mistreatment many members of DAR resigned their membership including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
With the help of the Roosevelts, Walter White, and Hurok Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes was persuaded to let Marian perform an open air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The Memorial performance catapulted Anderson into icon status. The songstress would go on to perform in the Constitution Hall and become the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Anderson would become the second wife of famed architect Orpheus (King) H. Fisher. Marian Anderson would go on to accomplish great things. She would sing at Eisenhower and Kennedy’s inauguration and she would tour India as a good will ambassador through the U.S. State Department and the American National Theater and Academy.
The life of Marian Anderson was bittersweet. Marian Anderson quietly died on April 8, 1993 of heart failure at her nephew’s Oregon home. She was 96 years old. She is buried at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania.