The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman. Clarion Books (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2004. 128 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 9-12. ISBN: 9780618159765.
Marian Anderson was African-American singer of both classical and spiritual music. She was born in 1897 and grew up in Philadelphia. In her teen years, when she began to perform, she traveled extensively. Audiences everywhere marveled at her voice. When she travelled In the South, she was introduced to the indignities of the Jim Crow laws. Finding a place to stay, a place to eat, and a place to perform was difficult. However, Anderson seemed to feel that dealing with segregation in the South was just the price of being able to sing for Southern audiences. Above all, she loved to sing.
Anderson worked with three vocal coaches, and even after she stopped needing coaches, she still critiqued her own performances and tried to learn from what she felt she had done well and from what she felt she had not done well. She spent extended periods of time in Europe in order to learn the languages of her repertoire. She performed for Heads of State, for Kings and for Queens in Europe.
Back in the United States, in the spring of 1939, Anderson wanted to perform in Washington DC. All venues except Constitution Hall were too small for the expected audience. The Daughters of the American Revolution owned Constitution Hall and had a strict policy forbidding African-Americans to perform at the Hall. Anderson had performed for President and Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House, but she could not perform at Constitution Hall, in spite of pleas from dignitaries such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Harold Ickes, the Interior Secretary. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR. On Easter Sunday, 1939, Marian Anderson gave a free concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 75,000 people came to hear her sing. The concert became a model for protest events throughout the civil rights movement. Marian Anderson didn’t intend to be a figure in the civil rights movement. She only wanted to be a singer. But after the concert at the Lincoln Memorial she joined the NAACP and became one of their most effective fundraisers.
Freedman’s research is impressive. He deftly weaves together Anderson’s career and the civil rights movement. Photographs set the context.
Marian Anderson is a role model for any artist struggling to learn and perfect their art, and for any person of color seeking to work in this country where segregation hasn’t disappeared.
Marian Anderson Singing: