This day in history on April 9, 1939, Marian Anderson performed for an integrated audience of 75,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial joined by millions more tuned in over the radio. This critically acclaimed performance came after the Daughters of the American Revolution’s denied her use of Constitution Hall for a concert because of her race.
Anderson was born February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She began singing at age six and in 1925 got her first break when she won a singing contest sponsored by the New York Philharmonic. In 1955, Anderson became the first Black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera and in 1963 she sang at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. She also sang for the Presidential inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957 and John F. Kennedy’s in 1961.
Anderson received a multitude of awards during her lifetime including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
Anderson’s performance was a remarkable moment in the civil rights movement and in U.S. History. Her powerful performance and the fight to make it happen helped set the stage for civil rights battles over segregation in schools and other public venues in years to come. Over the span of an hour, one of the most gifted and talented contralto’s of our times brought our nation together in a way no one else in history had before that day.