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Contralto Marian Anderson

This research examines the life and work of African American contralto Marian Anderson (1897-1993). The research will discuss the context in which Anderson achieved prominence and her involvment in social change, and the race-based difficulties she encountered and overcame. Her attitude toward the process of effecting a shift in social organization and attitudes will also be reviewed.

At a time when African American entertainers have a high public and career profile among whites as well as blacks, it is remarkable to contemplate that as recently as 66 years ago--and as long ago as 20 years before the civil rights movement effected major social change in America--the custom and practice of overt racial discrimination and legally sanctioned racial segregation were a matter of routine and black-letter law. Like other American black artists, Marian Anderson was obliged to pursue a career as a classical-canon concert singer outside the US. Born in South Philadelphia, Anderson was recognized as a "singing prodigy" while she was still a teenager and sang in the all-black People's Chorus, and before audiences at black churches. Segregation prevented Anderson from studying at a Philadelphia music school, and her high school education was also delayed. However, the leadership of the People's Chorus helped organize funding for private study in the city, first with black contralto voice coach Agnes Reifsnyder (Keiler 33-4), whose assistant rather than student she eventually became; Reifsnyder and Anderson tutored younger students in voice. By the late 1920s Anderson had achieved a low-key career as a performer along the eastern seaboard, becoming the family breadwinner for her widowed mother and siblings by performing in black churches and for black civic organizations. In addition to earnings from concerts, Anderson benefited from the largesse of Philadelphia's black community, supporting her mother and sisters being a continual preoccupation ...

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Contralto Marian Anderson. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 10:22, May 28, 2020, from