Saturday, January 07, 2012

This day in music - January 7, 1955: Marian Anderson becomes the first black singer to perform at the Met

While I will claim a decent working knowledge of a number of musical genres, Opera is not one them. I have been to a couple of performances. I am always in awe of the talent on display. It's probably a class thing. I didn't grow up with it, and can't relate to it, though at some level I still grasp the beauty of it.

Marian Anderson (1987-1993) was an African-American contralto and one of the most important singers of the twentieth century.

She was also a significant figure in the civil rights movement, having once famously performed at an open-air concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after having been refused permission by the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing to an integrated audience at Constitution Hall.

Later, on January 7, 1955, she became the first black person to perform at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City. For the opera buffs among us, she performed as Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi's Un ballo in maschera (The Masked Ball). In one reference, it was stated that she was "the first black singer as a regular company member." Perhaps someone could explain the difference.

Anderson was an important presence throughout the civil rights movement, having, for example, sung at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, which also featured Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Among honours awarded were the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.

Below is a clip of the aforementioned performance at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. Still powerful.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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