Marian Anderson 

(1902 - 1993)

Marian Anderson was the first black singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Anderson, who was a contralto, made her debut (1955) as Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. She was, however, primarily a concert artist and was particularly acclaimed for her singing of spirituals. Anderson first sang in church choirs. Because of her race she had to overcome great difficulties to obtain the training necessary for a career. In 1935 she sang for Arturo Toscanini, who said she had "a voice that comes once in a hundred years." In 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her access to Washington's Constitution Hall for a concert; Eleanor Roosevelt then arranged her concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before an audience of 75,000. Anderson was named by the government as an alternate United Nations delegate in 1958. She sang at the inaugural balls of Presidents Eisenhower (1957) and Kennedy (1961). Anderson made many recordings and was noted for the warm, deep timbre and for the style of her oratorio singing. She retired after a successful concert tour in 1965. In 1978 she was one of five recipients of the first Kennedy Center Honors.