You might wonder what a picture of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC has to do with theatre or music. You’ll soon find out. It’s also an appropriate picture for the week during which Martin Luther King Day is celebrated, as he made his famous I Have a Dream speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, dreaming of a day when race would no longer be a barrier to anyone.
Most people have heard of Jackie Robinson, and of what he did for the sport of baseball. In a time when African-Americans were not allowed to play Major League ball, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and became the first African-American to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In a way, Marian Anderson was like Jackie Robinson. She was one of the people who helped break the color barrier for musicians and others in the world of the performing arts.
Marian Anderson was born in 1897 to a poor African-American family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She wasn’t very old when people at her church realized what a wonderful singing voice she had. She soon became well known and admired as a contralto singer.
But she was African-American, and in the time in which she lived, that meant there were many places she could not go, many things she could not do.
In 1939, the man who arranged her concerts tried to arrange for her to sing in Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. At that time, only white people were allowed to sing there, and the request was denied. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt heard of this, and made arrangements for Ms. Anderson to give her concert at the Lincoln Memorial. What a perfect place, at a building that honored the president who had ensured that slavery would be abolished in the United States.
Later, in 1955, Ms. Anderson became the first African-American to sing in the Metropolitan Opera in New York, again breaking the color barrier, and paving the way for other great singers to follow her.
She was the first African-American invited to sing at the White House. She sang the national anthem at the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957, and at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. She sang all over the world, and was honored all over the world.
If you want to learn more about Marian Anderson, from a kid’s point of view, you can read an article about her by a girl named Elizabeth (not me!) at the My Hero Project online, or you can read one of three articles about her in the online Children’s Encyclopedia of Women (just click on her name in the alphabetical list).