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Marian Anderson (03:52)


Anderson was an American contralto. She became a Civil Rights pioneer after spending time performing in operas in Europe.

Anderson's Childhood (05:49)

Anderson was born in 1897 in Philadelphia to a family descended from slaves. Her family attended the Union Baptist Church, and she was a member of the children's choir. The church and her parents realized Anderson had a musical talent from an early age.

Anderson's Teenage Years (04:06)

Anderson's father John died in 1909 when she was 12. Anderson left school to support the family, doing domestic work and singing for money. She began singing with the church's senior choir and mastered one of the most difficult songs.

Anderson and Roland Hayes (02:43)

In 1917, Roland Hayes gave Anderson her first big break when he invited her to sing a contralto part at Jordan Hall in Boston. She was 20 at the time and had the chance to work with a vocal coach but turned it down.

Anderson in the South (02:07)

Anderson traveled to the South for the first time in 1917 to sing for a black organization in Savannah. She felt something needed to be done about the treatment of black people.

Anderson in Chicago (05:41)

Anderson went to Chicago for a six-week opera course during a period of racial unrest in 1919. Anderson won a competition for the National Association of Negro Musicians. A white music school rejected her attempt to attend.

Anderson's Early Tours (06:10)

Anderson's church recognized her talent and created a tour of different churches to raise money. Musician Billy King met her on the tour and asked her to tour with him. King became her manager in 1923.

Anderson's Vocal Training (03:14)

Anderson began working with vocal coach and artist Giuseppe Boghetti in Philadelphia. Anderson had a three-octave range and did not suggest reaching a high C. She turned down a marriage proposal from Orpheus Fisher so she could finish vocal training.

Anderson's Low Point (03:07)

In 1924, Anderson had a contract to sign at Town Hall in Manhattan. She wanted to sing in German like Hayes did, but she did not speak German. The poorly attended concert received bad reviews, but critics applauded Anderson for her age.

Anderson's Rebound (03:39)

In 1925, Hayes picked Anderson to sing at an NAACP event, restoring her confidence. She became the first black artist signed by RCA Victor for a recording of Harry T. Burleigh's "Deep River." She won a music competition and sang with the New York Philharmonic.

Anderson in Europe (03:39)

After the Philharmonic, Anderson traveled to England and experienced life without the racism of America. She got to know other black American artists living in London and began studying songs in European languages.

Anderson and Scandinavian Music (06:10)

Anderson received a grant from the Rosenwald Foundation to study in Germany. She began working with Finnish pianist Kosti Vehanen and met Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. It gave her a new confidence and success with Scandinavian music.

Anderson's Rising Popularity (04:25)

Anderson's popularity continued throughout Europe. In 1934, she met impresario Sol Hurok, who agreed to work with her. Anderson traveled to the Soviet Union and performed spirituals, despite warnings to avoid religious music, and was well received.

Anderson in Salzburg (03:52)

The rise of Fascism and Nazism limited where Anderson could perform in Europe. She became a worldwide celebrity after performing at the Salzburg Festival in 1935. The organizers did not promote her performance for racist reasons, but the audience grew through word of mouth.

Anderson's Stardom (03:14)

Anderson skyrocketed to stardom after the performance in Salzburg. She had encounters with nobility and other celebrities. Despite many suiters, she reconnected with Fisher via letters and returned to America.

Anderson's Return (03:23)

Anderson returned to Town Hall in 1935 with Vehanen as her accompanist; many in the black community wanted her to sing with King. By 1936, she had numerous concerts in New York, and many considered her one of the greatest singers in the world.

Anderson and Jim Crow (02:46)

Despite her success, Anderson still faced racial discrimination. She and Vehanen struggled to travel together and experienced a level of racism they were not used to.

Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial (09:40)

Anderson struggled to find a venue large enough for her Washington, D.C. performance. It created a controversy that involved the Daughters of the American Revolution, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She sang at the Lincoln Memorial to an interracial audience of 75,000 people on April 9, 1939.

Anderson's Grace (03:14)

Anderson challenged the racist idea of what a black woman could be like. She had grace and dignity that embodied ladyhood. Anderson's American popularity grew after the Lincoln Memorial concert, and she became a symbol for Civil Rights.

Anderson and Fischer (04:18)

In 1943, Anderson married Fisher, who had become a prominent architect. They struggled to find a place to live since Fisher passed for white. They eventually bought a 100-acre farm in Connecticut.

Anderson and Integration (07:33)

Anderson sang for segregated audiences. The NAACP urged her to begin demanding integrated shows, which resulted in numerous performance cancellations. In 1955, she became the first black performer at the Metropolitan Opera.

Anderson as an Ambassador (03:55)

The Roosevelt Administration named Anderson a Goodwill Ambassador and an alternate to the United Nations. She became a powerful peace builder around the world. She and Fisher traveled, taking in different forms of art and music.

Anderson in the 1960s (05:29)

Anderson sang the National Anthem at John F. Kennedy's inauguration. She traveled to Australia and New Zealand for the first time in 1963 but her age was showing in her voice. At the request of the NAACP, she sang at the March on Washington.

Anderson's Goodbye Tour (09:06)

Anderson began her goodbye tour in October 1964. She was one of the first people to receive the Kennedy Theater honors in 1978. She died in 1993 at the age of 96 surrounded by family in Oregon.

Credits: "Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands (American Masters)" (00:53)

Credits: "Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands (American Masters)"

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Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands (American Masters)

Part of the Series : American Masters
3-Year Streaming Price: $199.95



Explore the life, career, art and legacy of the African American contralto and civil rights pioneer Marian Anderson. Anchored by key performances in her career, Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands shows how her quiet genius and breathtaking voice set the stage for Black performers in classical music, and a louder voice for civil rights.

Length: 113 minutes

Item#: BVL284196

Copyright date: ©2022

Closed Captioned

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