Born on February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, renowned contralto Marian Anderson became an American icon and rose to international prominence, despite the racism she encountered throughout her life. In her autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, Anderson described herself as one who was not “designed for hand-to-hand combat.” Still, with a quiet dignity, she graciously challenged racial discrimination. In 1939, for example, Anderson was scheduled to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. after having 70 recitals in the U.S. the year before. However, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), owners of the facility, maintained a “whites only” policy. In protest, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the group. Anderson was then invited to sing at the Lincoln Memorial. An unprecedented 75,000 flocked to the Lincoln Memorial for the performance. As Anderson took the stage, she began by singing, “My Country, Tis of Thee.”
Anderson had over 1,500 songs in her repertoire, sang in nine languages, and performed on four continents. Her life continued to reflect humility and grace as she received national honors throughout her life. She sang at two U.S. presidential inaugurations, and in 1955 at age 57, she became the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. On April 8, 1993, Marian Anderson died in Portland, Oregon. Twelve years later, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor.
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