Washington Performing Arts Society Hosts Tribute to Marian Anderson

Event Recalls DAR Ban on Black Performers

The beauty of her voice could not be denied. However, her skin tone did deny her the right to sing wherever she wanted. 75 years ago, Marian Anderson did not let her color stop the world from hearing her voice.

During the time that Anderson was at the peak of her career, racial segregation in the United States was the norm in the South and in several aspects of life in northern cities.  Anderson had performed in Europe in front of thousands of spectators. When her manager tried to set up a performance at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., the contralto was turned away. Anderson was told that she could not perform because no dates were available. It was later discovered that the owners of the hall, the Daughters of the American Revolution, did not allow black performers according to www.biography.com.   

According to www.npr.org, Anderson had been invited by Howard University to sing in D.C. as part of a concert series. Since Anderson was so well-known throughout the world, the idea of holding the concert in Constitution Hall was ideal to hold the large crowds expected. When she was denied, a member of the NAACP came up with the idea to have the performance outside, according to www.npr.org.

Since the Lincoln Memorial was outside and could accommodate a large group of spectators, the concert was held at the monument. Over 75,000 people showed up 75 years ago on April 9, 1939. Anderson began her performance with “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” but instead of signing “of thee I sing” she changed the “I” to “we.”

“I could not run away from this situation. If I had anything to offer, I would have to do so now,” Marian Anderson wrote according to www.npr.org

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of this historic event, the Washington Performing Arts Society held a concert at DAR Constitution Hall on April 12. The concert, entitled “Of Thee We Sing,” featured performances by opera singer Soloman Howard and soprano Alyson Cambridge.

Marian Anderson paved the way for many singers that came behind her to be able to perform anywhere in the world. Anderson was eventually able to perform at Constitution Hall years later. However, her performance at the Lincoln Memorial made her a legendary person in history.