Thursday, April 9, 2009

60 years ago today: listen

It was 60 years ago today--April 9, 1939, which was Easter Sunday--that the great opera contralto Marian Anderson sang at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. She had been barred from performing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. And so the arts became, as they have so often, the focus of struggle against racism. This struggle captured national attention and when the concert took place, with Ms. Anderson standing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, more than 75,000 people, a great many of them African American, were there, with millions more listening to the live radio broadcast. You can hear part of it here.

A new biography of Marian Anderson, with special emphasis on the 1939 concert and its meaning in this country's cultural history, was published this month. The book is The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert that Awakened America. The author is Raymond Arsenault, John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. I'd like to read this.

Meanwhile, there's this report in today's Washington Post (log-in may be required), about the dedicated women who maintain Marian Anderson's Philadelphia home as a museum.