Marian Anderson Singing Songs to Her Rights

By: Demi Browder

Who was Marian Anderson?

Marian Anderson was born on February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was known not only for her contralto, but her bravery to breakthrough racism to show her talent. Growing up Anderson revealed her voice talents early, but unfortunately her family didn’t have the finances to help train her voice professionally. But did that stop her? Of course not! Marian Anderson shined when she performed, and with a voice like hers it was hard to miss. So hard, that the people around her wanted her to succeed. Members at her church, the Union Baptist Church, raised money for her to attend music school. By age 19, Marian was noticed by well-known voice teacher, Giuseppe Boghetti who was known for his teaching of several American opera singers. Boghetti trained Anderson for free for a year. Marian Anderson broke many barriers for African Americans, African American women, and just minority artists in general. In the late 1800’s early 1900’s the Civil Rights movement hadn’t started but it was clearly on its way. Marian Anderson had a talent like no other but she had the skin that degraded any note she sang. Being black made her closed too many concert opportunities. But again she didn’t let the color of her skin get in the way of her success or her way to express herself. 

Her Successes and Expression of Artistry Through Spirituals

Marian Anderson made her first appearance when she won a competition, rewarding her with the opportunity to sing at a recital with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1925. She then went on to tour Europe in 1930-32, 1933-34, and 1934-35. These tours allowed her to build a huge name in Europe, yet in the United States she was still pretty unknown. Her contralto has been said to be the greatest in the world, and due to her tremendous talent she received many scholarships and awards.  It was evident Anderson had an undeniable voice, but because of the racism prominent in America she faced many trials and tribulations. In 1933 Marian attempted to rent out concert facilities owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution who refused her because of her race. This sparked a monumental protest between all people, including known feminist and First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt who along with other well-known women reassigned from DAR. It was soon all worth it when Anderson was invited to sing at the Lincoln Memorial. This particular performance was not only a win for women, but to enslaved African ancestors and the African American community. Marian Anderson performed, “America”, “Ave Maria”, and an entire set of Negro spirituals. One of the spirituals, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” being an encore. Marian Anderson could have easily sung White American songs to please her majority audience, but instead she choose to represent her culture and her ancestors that allowed her to perform where she was. After her performance at the Lincoln Memorial, Anderson became the first African American singer to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, publish an autobiography, made a delegate to the United Nations, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. Marian Anderson accomplished many milestones in her lifetime, but what sticks the most is her courage and grace to get to her success, she didn’t take no for an answer and never let her skin be an obstacle to share her voice with the world. 

History with Negro Spirituals

Negro spirituals is defined as a religious form of music for African Americans during slavery. It is often categorized with hymns, but hymns along with, “psalms were introduced to slaves by European missionaries” (Burmin 50). Slaves instead used a call-response pattern to organize their music as well as incorporating body movement, hand clapping, and displays of religious ecstasy. Slaves gathered in ravines, fields, and living quarters to perform these songs amongst each other. Like other activities during slavery, slaves weren’t allowed to worship or practice religion without the supervision of the white man, so negro spirituals were done in secret. Negro spirituals have dated back all the way to the 1700s, but is still relevant today. Negro spirituals was an outlet for slaves to share stories, express emotions, and send signals between one another. Today, we see that hip-hop has been outlet for people in the African American community to conversate about issues in Black America, express hardships, and advocate for equality between their community and America as a whole.


Burnim, Mellonee V., and Portia K. Maultsby. African American Music an Introduction. Routledge, 2015.

“Marian Anderson.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,


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