Born 27 February 1897, Marian Anderson was the oldest of three daughters in Philadelphia, PA. She had intended to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a teacher (as a means of financial security in a time when Black women were only considered useful as school teachers or mammies). However, music got a hold of her and she just couldn’t let it go. She transferred from William Penn High School to South Philadelphia High School to focus on her new desire to be a singer.
Through poverty and racial rejection, Anderson taught herself how to sing, garnering the nickname “The Baby Contralto” because of her thick lower register. At the age of 15, she was privileged to meet one of the most sought after vocal teachers of the time, Guiseppe Boghetti, moving him to tears. Through years of performance and travel across Europe, Anderson brought her rich mezzo-soprano to the forefront, toppling racism and self-doubt.
In 1955 at the age of 58, Marian Anderson became the first Black person to sing at the New York Metropolitan Opera as a regular member of the world renowned company. She would later become a Goodwill Ambassador through the U.S. State Department and the American National Theatre and Academy, travelling through several parts of Asia.
Soft natured and non-confrontational, Marian Anderson conquered the critics and the second class citizenship she endured in the U.S. to become a pillar of Black strength, class, and sophistication.
Written by Camiele White