Marian Anderson was the first African-American soloist to perform with the Metropolitan Opera and paved the way for such future greats as Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman. She had a purity of tone in her contralto voice and a three octave vocal range which are still remembered.
As with most young black singers of the time Marian's voice was fine tuned in her local church where she began to sing at the age of six. Her church was a place of both moral and financial support which would allow the young singer to flourish. Her communities efforts allowed her to obtain voice lessons with acclaimed voice teacher Guisepe Boghetti.
Many people heard the wonderful voice of Anderson and those chance hearings earned her a scholarship to travel, sing and learn in Europe where she was a great success. At a concert in Salzburg, Austria the great conductor Arturo Toscanini proclaimed her voice to be one heard only once in a hundred years.
Anderson was originally not accepted in the states because of her color. In one of the most well known incidents of blatant discrimination in the arts, Marian was denied the opportunity to sing at Washington's Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution who owned the facility. The Hall would not open its doors to black artists until 1952.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, disturbed by the blatant disrespect shown to Anderson, invited her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939 to an amazed and appreciative audience of 75,000. Anderson would also become the first African-American to sing in the White House.
It was years later however before Marian Anderson was allowed into the halls of the Metropolitan Opera. The year was 1955 and the Opera was Verdi's "A Masked Ball." She was 57-years old. She continued to sing and travel widely and was named a goodwill ambassador by the state department. She also served on the U.N. Trusteeship Committee which oversaw territories in the South Pacific.
Anderson sang at the inauguration of President Kennedy and also earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 1965 she opened her farewell concert tour at, of all places, Constitution Hall in Washington. The tour ended at Carnegie Hall.
Marian Anderson never saw herself as a fighter but without her perseverance, we would not have the privilege of hearing many of the voices we take for granted today.
She died in 1993, four years before her 100th birthday.