Marian Anderson was a huge influence on many artists over the years, from Nina Simone, Odetta, Elvis, Jessye Norman, The Staple Singers - up to artists such as Nick Cave, Anthony & The Johnsons and The Gabriels.. This 126 track compilation Spirituals features a mixture of her best Classical, Blues, Gospel songs - including her famous public concert at the Lincoln Memorial, one of the most important musical events of the 20th century that took place on the National Mall in Washington because she was unable to get an auditorium to accommodate such a huge audience...
Marian Anderson, (born February 27, 1897, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.—died April 8, 1993, Portland, Oregon), American singer, one of the finest contraltos of her time.
Hard-working and respectable, her mother was a former schoolteacher. Her father delivered ice and coal throughout the city. At the heart of their community stood the Union Baptist Church at the corner of Fitzwater and Martin Streets. It was within these walls that Marian first began to sing. Her two younger sisters also possessed musical talent, but it was Marian who garnered the most attention. When she was only 14, the choirmaster, Alexander Robinson, moved her from the youth to the adult choir. She stunned the other members not only with the strength and beauty of her voice, but also with her ability to sing any part of a hymn upon demand. Whether it was the soprano, alto, tenor, or bass part that Robinson needed, he could rely on Marian to provide it.
The congregation had such faith in her that they started a "Marian Anderson's Future Fund," which would pay for lessons with the city's leading voice instructors and support her performances. The fund would provide Marian with the support she needed after her father's death in 1911. She continued to give concerts while she attended the South Philadelphia High School for Girls, and her teacher, Dr. Lucy Langdon Wilson, arranged for the famed Italian voice master, Giuseppe Boghetti, to hear her. He remembers this first meeting as occurring "at the end of a long hard day, when I was weary of singing and singers, and when a tall calm girl poured out ‘Deep River' in the twilight and made me cry." While Philadelphia conservatories turned Marian away with the refusal, "We don't take colored," she quickly acquired influential fans who would aid her career.
In 1925 Boghetti entered Marian in a contest with 300 other contestants. The winner would make a solo appearance with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. Seventeen-year-old Marian auditioned and won. The achievement prompted Boghetti to take her to Europe. Training and performing, Marian made her European debut at the Paris Opera House in 1935.
The success she met with there made her the toast of Europe, entertaining in command performances before King Gustav in Stockholm and King Christian in Copenhagen. As a young black woman from South Philadelphia who could superbly deliver Russian folk songs, classic German and French arias as well as Negro Spirituals, she was a wonder and people flocked to hear her. Sibelius, the Finnish composer, was so inspired that he dedicated the song, "Solitude," to her. The success she encountered in Europe brought her back to America in 1935 for a public debut at Carnegie Hall in New York. The day before the performance, while still on the Ile de France, Marian fell and broke her ankle. Determined to make her appearance, she performed the entire program standing on one foot, balancing against the piano, with her floor-length gown covering the cast on her ankle. Again, she met with success. It won her so much exposure and popularity that in 1936 she became the first African American to be invited to perform at the White House and then sang there again when Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were entertaining the King and Queen of Great Britain in 1939.
Despite the fact that she was the country's third highest concert box office draw, Marian was still subject to the racial bias of the time. When she traveled in the United States, she was often, like all African Americans of her time, restricted to "colored" waiting rooms, hotels, and train cars. In once instance, she was allowed to stay in an upscale Los Angeles hotel, but not to enter its formal dining room. She learned to avoid these affronts by staying with friends in the cities where she performed and driving her own car instead of taking the train. When she performed in the South, despite a general acceptance by the public, the newspapers could not bring themselves to refer to her as "Miss Anderson." The Southern press came up with other forms of address in order to avoid paying her any type of deference; "Artist Anderson" and "Singer Anderson" frequently being used. This type of treatment was symptomatic of the pervasive racism of the time. It finally came to a head in 1939 when Marian's manager, Sol Hurok, and Howard University tried to secure a performance for her at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. The Daughters of the American Revolution, who owned the Hall, refused to accommodate Anderson. The rebuff was widely publicized when Eleanor Roosevelt, herself a member of the D.A.R., publicly resigned from the organization in protest. In her letter to the D.A.R., she wrote, "I am in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to a great artist . . . You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed." Outraged, the "Marian Anderson Committee" formed to petition the D.A.R. and likened the organization's action to those of Hitler's racist regime...
In response, Eleanor and the Committee arranged for Marian to give her concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with the Mall of Washington as her auditorium. Symbolically, the concert took place on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. The sun was shining as 75,000 people of all races crowded together; the largest gathering to assemble there since Lindbergh's reception in 1927. Feeling the meaning of the occasion, Marian had tears in her eyes when she delivered "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" and "America" with heart-breaking pathos. The event was so momentous and inspiring that the D.A.R. finally invited Marian to sing at the Hall in 1943 for a war relief concert. At that event, both black and white concert-goers attended. Marian's awards were many. In 1938 Eleanor Roosevelt presented her with the NAACP's Spingarn Award for "that American Negro who has made the highest achievement in any honorable field of endeavor." In 1941 she was granted the Edward Bok Award for distinguished service to the city of Philadelphia. A key moment in her career came in 1955 when she became the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. Three years after this immense achievement President Eisenhower named her a delegate to the 13th General Assembly of the United Nations. Over two dozen universities presented her with honorary doctorates and in 1963 President Lyndon Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 1965 Marian gave her final performance at Carnegie Hall in New York. Afterward, she settled with her husband, Orpheus Fisher, on a farm in Connecticut. She died of congestive heart failure on April 8, 1993. The following June, a memorial service attended by 2,000 admirers paid tribute to the singer whose beautiful voice exposed the country's ugly racial divisions. The singer who had once been barred from performing in the nation's capital and who had been forced to use the back entrance at posh hotels had become an American musical icon...
This collection take from classic albums including...
Let Freedom Ring
He's Got The Whole World In His Hands: Spirituals
The RCA Victor Vocal Series
Let Freedom Ring - Singing For A Nation...
On April 9, 1939, as Hitler's troops advanced in Europe and the Depression took its toll in the U.S., one of the most important musical events of the 20th century took place on the National Mall in Washington. There, just two performers, a singer and a pianist, made musical — and social — history.
At 42, contralto Marian Anderson was famous in Europe and the U.S., but she had never faced such an enormous crowd. There were 75,000 people in the audience that day, and she was terrified. Later, she wrote: "I could not run away from this situation. If I had anything to offer, I would have to do so now."
I could not run away from this situation. If I had anything to offer, I would have to do so now.
So, in the chilly April dusk, Anderson stepped onto a stage built over the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and began to sing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." Her first notes show no sign of nerves. Her voice is forceful and sweet. And the choice of music — that opening song — is remarkable, given the circumstances. The NBC Blue Network announcer explained the unusual venue this way: "Marian Anderson is singing this public concert at the Lincoln Memorial because she was unable to get an auditorium to accommodate the tremendous audience that wishes to hear her."
That was hardly the story. According to Anderson biographer Allan Keiler, she was invited to sing in Washington by Howard University as part of its concert series. And because of Anderson's international reputation, the university needed to find a place large enough to accommodate the crowds. Constitution Hall was such a place, but the Daughters of the American Revolution owned the hall.
"They refused to allow her use of the hall," Keiler says, "because she was black and because there was a white-artist-only clause printed in every contract issued by the DAR."
Like the nation's capital, Constitution Hall was segregated then. Black audiences could sit in a small section of the balcony, and did, when a few black performers appeared in earlier years. But after one such singer refused to perform in a segregated auditorium, the DAR ruled that only whites could appear on their stage.
One of the members of the DAR was first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Outraged by the decision, Roosevelt sent a letter of resignation and wrote about it in her weekly column, "My Day." "They have taken an action which has been widely criticized in the press," she wrote. "To remain as a member implies approval of that action, and therefore I am resigning."
The DAR did not relent. According to Keiler, the idea to sing outdoors came from Walter White, then executive secretary of the NAACP. Since the Lincoln Memorial was a national monument, the logistics for the day fell to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. It was Ickes who led Anderson onto the stage on April 9, 1939.
'Of Thee We Sing'
She began with "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" — also known as "America" — a deeply patriotic song. When she got to the third line of that well-known tune, she made a change. Instead of "of thee I sing" she sang "to thee we sing."
A quiet, humble person, Anderson often used "we" when speaking about herself. Years after the concert, she explained why: "We cannot live alone," she said. "And the thing that made this moment possible for you and for me, has been brought about by many people whom we will never know."
But her change of lyric — from "I" to "we" — can be heard as an embrace, implying community and group responsibility. Never a civil rights activist, Anderson believed prejudice would disappear if she performed and behaved with dignity. But dignity came at a price throughout her 25-minute Lincoln Memorial concert. Biographer Keller says she appeared frightened before every song, yet the perfect notes kept coming.
"I think it was because she was able to close her eyes and shut out what she saw in front of her," Keiler says. "And simply the music took over."
After "America," she sang an aria from La favorite by Gaetano Donizetti, then Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria." She ended the concert with three spirituals, "Gospel Train," "Trampin'" and "My Soul is Anchored in the Lord."
On that stage, before a bank of microphones, the Lincoln statue looming behind her, iconic photographs reveal Anderson as a regal figure that cloudy, blustery day. Although the sun broke out as she began to sing, she wrapped her fur coat around her against the April wind.
Anderson's mink coat is preserved at the Anacostia Community Museum in Washington. It's kept in a large archival box in cold storage and stuffed with acid-free tissue to preserve its shape. The lining of the coat is embroidered with gold threads in a paisley pattern, and the initials M A are monogrammed inside.
Whether wrapped in that coat or gowned for a concert hall, Anderson, Museum historian Gail Lowe says, touched everyone who heard her: "Her voice was a very rich contralto and so those kind of low notes ... can resonate and match one's heartbeat."
Conductor Arturo Toscanini said a voice like Anderson's "comes around once in a hundred years."
'Genuis, Like Justice, Is Blind'
When Ickes introduced Anderson, he told the desegregated crowd — which stretched all the way from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument — "In this great auditorium under the sky, all of us are free. Genius, like justice, is blind. Genius draws no color lines."
And genius had touched Marian Anderson.
Anderson inspired generations and continues to do so. An anniversary concert will take place at Constitution Hall, which denied her 75 years ago. A few featured performers are Jessye Norman, Dionne Warwick, American Idol winner Candice Glover, bass Soloman Howard and soprano Alyson Cambridge.
Cambridge first heard about Anderson while she was a young music student in Washington. "They said she was the first African-American to sing at the Met," Cambridge says. At 12 years old, Cambridge was just beginning voice lessons, but she knew that New York's Metropolitan Opera was it for an opera singer.
These days, Cambridge finds she has to explain the great singer to others. "Some people sort of look at me with a raised eyebrow — 'Who's Marian Anderson?' " Cambridge says. And she continues, "She really broke down the barriers for all African-American artists and performers."
The Lincoln Memorial concert made Anderson an international celebrity. It overshadowed the rest of her long life as a performer — she was 96 when she died in 1993. Eventually she did sing at Constitution Hall. By that time, the DAR had apologized and changed its rules. Anderson rarely spoke of that historic April day, and Keiler says when she did, there was no rancor.
"You never heard in her voice, a single tone of meanness, bitterness, blame, it was simply lacking," he says. "There is something saintly in that. Something deeply human and good."
THE NEW YORKER - By Alex Ross
Marian Anderson’s Bone-Chilling Rendition of “Crucifixion”
Her performances of the Black spiritual in the nineteen-thirties caused American and European audiences to fall silent in awe.
Marian Anderson’s wide-ranging contralto possessed the kind of resonant halo that technology is helpless to reproduce.Photograph by Carl Van Vechten / Library of Congress
Over the summer, the Sony Classical label released “Marian Anderson: Beyond the Music,” a sumptuous boxed set containing the contralto’s complete published recordings for the RCA Victor label, from 1924 to 1966. It amounts, effectively, to a coffee-table book with fifteen CDs attached, containing more than two hundred pages of biographical text, archival photographs, and discographic information. Classical labels routinely manufacture such luxury objects these days to entice collectors to pay anew for recordings that they already own or that they can easily obtain from streaming services. The Anderson set stands out because it feels in some way necessary. The singer’s towering historical stature is given its due—we see images of her epochal performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in 1939, an event that materially influenced Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the same location twenty-four years later. But the disks remind us that Anderson attained that status first and foremost because of the magnificence of her musicianship.
No great singer can ever be fully captured on a recording, and Anderson proved more elusive than most. By all reports, her wide-ranging contralto possessed the kind of resonant halo that technology is helpless to reproduce. A complicating factor is that racism in the music business prevented her from being fully documented when she was in her prime, and by the time she had become an almost universally lauded figure, in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, her voice had gone into decline; she continued recording until she was almost seventy. Still, the boxed set readily bears out the conductor Arturo Toscanini’s famous claim—uttered after hearing Anderson sing in Salzburg, in 1935—that her voice was of a kind that comes along only once in a hundred years. (There is a standard term of appreciation in German: “Jahrhundertstimme,” or “century voice.”) She was at her most transfixing in the unearthlier stretches of the Romantic repertory: Schubert’s “Der Doppelgänger,” Brahms’s “Alto Rhapsody,” Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder.”
On this journey through the Anderson discography, though, I was stopped short by a track on the first disk, which is devoted to her early recordings of spirituals. I found myself listening obsessively to the Easter hymn “Crucifixion,” also known as “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word.” Anderson’s best-known rendition of the song was for an album of spirituals, released in 1953, but this version was made twelve years earlier, at the Lotos Club, in New York. “Crucifixion” exists in various guises: Anderson used an arrangement by the Black singer and composer John C. Payne, who was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and later settled in England. The text is a paean to forbearance:
They crucified my Lord
And he never said a mumblin’ word
They crucified my Lord
And he never said a mumblin’ word
Not a word, not a word, not a word.
Anderson sings two more verses, with “They crucified my Lord” replaced first by “They pierced him in the side” and then by “He bowed his head and died.” The melodic line has a kind of granitic simplicity: it reaches from B up to the tonic note E; wends its way back to B; makes the same ascent and descent; and then, with the repetitions of “not a word,” reaches down to G, F-sharp, and, finally, low E.
Anderson liked to sing “Crucifixion” at a glacial tempo, but the 1941 recording flirts with absolute stasis. The pace keeps slowing as she goes along: the first verse lasts around seventy seconds, the second eighty seconds, the third a marmoreal ninety-five seconds. Anderson’s extraordinary breath control allows her to sustain an unbroken line over unreal spans of time. For the most part, she maintains an imperturbable steadiness, bordering on coldness, but she allows her voice to break expressively at the word “side.” She also adds a brief three-note ornament on the last “mumblin’ word.” The descent to the bottom E inspires a particular kind of awe: the dynamic is low, but the ground seems to tremble. Anderson’s accompanist, Franz Rupp, plays with elegant spareness, inserting single notes as accents.
In a perhaps futile urge to understand the power of this performance, I delved into the history of “Crucifixion.” One of the earliest sources for the spiritual is the collection “Favorite Folk-Melodies as Sung by Tuskegee Students,” which the influential bandmaster, composer, and educator N. Clark Smith assembled in 1913, when he was based at the Tuskegee Institute. James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson subsequently included a more elaborate, lieder-like arrangement in “The Book of American Negro Spirituals,” from 1925. In the same period, the celebrated Black tenor Roland Hayes added the song to his repertory; he later recorded it in stark a-cappella style, at a tempo considerably quicker than Anderson’s but hardly less eerie in effect. A report in the New York Age, from 1923, claims that Smith had received the song from a descendant of a Zulu tribe. Hayes was under the impression that it had been written by his great-grandfather Abá ‘Ougi, who grew up on what is now the Ivory Coast and was enslaved around 1790.
A jauntier, faster-paced version of the spiritual spread outside the concert arena. In 1933, the folk-song collector John Lomax recorded prisoners singing it at Parchman Farm, a notorious forced-labor camp in Mississippi. Cast in the major mode, their rendition amounts to a different song entirely. The hymn proceeded to wend its way through interesting corners of pop-music history: Lead Belly made a recording in the forties, which, decades later, fell into the hands of Kurt Cobain. These variations demonstrate the complexity of the spiritual tradition, in which distant folk origins entwine with the individual creative choices of latter-day performers. Anderson’s version represents another drastic revision. At that extreme slow tempo, the piece becomes almost a radical, modernist gesture.
Certainly, “Crucifixion” had a spellbinding impact on European and American audiences when Anderson began regularly including it in her recitals, in the nineteen-thirties. When she sang it in Salzburg, in 1935, a witness reported, “At the end of the spiritual there was no applause at all—a silence instinctive, natural, and intense, so that you were afraid to breathe.” Likewise, an anonymous review of a recital in Burlington, Vermont, in late 1939, singled out “Crucifixion” as the most striking item on the program: “As the great voice repeated over and over the refrain, ‘Not a word, not a word, not a word,’ the audience was caught and held in an emotional tension that kept a breathless hush throughout the building.” (Ironically, Anderson was said to have been wearing a “black Scarlett O’Hara type gown.”)
What, exactly, was happening when largely white audiences were stunned into silence? The simplest explanation is that Anderson’s delivery demanded such a response: by slowing the tempo, and by growing ever softer, she forced the audience to lean forward and, at the same time, turn inward. Audiences steeped in Christian teaching fell understandably dumb before this unadorned musical evocation of the Crucifixion. Anderson, who was herself intensely religious, gave a matter-of-fact explanation for the song’s effect in her autobiography: “In its simple words and moving music it captures the terror and tragedy of that awful moment.”
But race undoubtedly played a role. The historian Kira Thurman, in her remarkable new book “Singing Like Germans,” writes at length about Anderson’s European performances and notes that the singer won praise for her idiomatic command of the German repertory—praise that was undercut by racist condescension, as when she was described as “the Negro Singer with the White Soul.” She embodied, in Thurman’s words, a “bourgeois, Victorian, pious, modest, respectable womanhood with what many considered to be graceful elegance.” That nonthreatening profile was even more gratefully received in the United States: liberal-minded audiences could embrace an exceptional Black talent without having to think about their own complicity. The spirituals were a favorite site for this kind of encounter. Thurman notes that, when in Europe, Anderson “avoided discussing the politics of race in the United States, choosing instead to perform the politics of racial uplift through singing African American spirituals.”
“Crucifixion” exemplifies, in a way, the entire strategy of Anderson’s career: to remain above the fray, saying hardly a word about the racist society in which she had to move. (During the Second World War, she found herself consigned to the Black section of a train station while German prisoners of war sat in the white section.) As it happens, the spiritual’s implicit message of passive forbearance has been criticized by modern-day commentators. The biblical scholar Mitzi J. Smith, in a searching analysis of the text, observes that its sacralization of “silent suffering” can prove particularly problematic for women, valorizing an “ethics of silence around sexuality and sexual violence within the black community and the black church.”
How passive, though, is Anderson’s rendition of “Crucifixion”? Is she really saying “not a word”? Spirituals seemed to allow white listeners to empathize broadly with the plight of Black America—to view it as a sepia-toned landscape of everlasting sorrow. The icy atmosphere of “Crucifixion” has a different implication. It levels oblique accusations: “They crucified my Lord, they pierced him in the side.” The lynching murders of Black Americans were often compared to crucifixions; Anderson might have conjured such a scene in more than a few minds. In other words, the singer’s political silence can work in any number of ways. In my own mind’s eye, Anderson is raising an arm and pointing a finger as she sings.
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