Who was the first black singer
50 years ago Marian Anderson appeared as the first black artist at the Metropolitan Opera
The Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini raved about Marian Anderson, who broke through one of the last barriers for black classical singers: On January 7, 1955, the contralistin appeared in Verdi's opera "Maskenball" as a soloist in the New York "Met".
Anderson: Becoming a member of the Metropolitan Opera is a high point in my life. It means a lot to me and my people. If I was granted the privilege to be a symbol because no Negro had become a regular member of the ensemble before me, I am all the more proud of it as I know that other singers of my race took confidence from it and recognized that it would become one another open more and more doors.
In her autobiography, Marian Anderson recalls her legendary appearance at the Met. If she was right with her prediction that the doors would open to other black singers, says Robert Tuggle, archivist at the famous New York Opera House.
Tuggle: For the Met, Anderson's appearance meant that you no longer had to do without a number of outstanding singers who had not been able to perform here before. Not to mention the implications for the development of civil rights.
Born in Philadelphia in 1902, Marian Anderson was a member of the church choir at the age of six. Although she won first prize in an important New York singing competition from 300 applicants in 1925 and made her first appearance at Carnegie Hall four years later, one obstacle stood in the way of her career in the USA: the wrong skin color. Anderson's greatness was first recognized in Europe, where she made her debut in 1930. Five years later the impresario Sol Hurok brought her back to the USA, where her appearance in the "Town Hall" of New York in December 1935 was a triumph. Despite her success, Marian Anderson felt the consequences of racial segregation again and again. Because she was black, in 1939 the conservative women's association Daughters of the American Revolution refused to appear in the "Constitution Hall" in Washington. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the organization in protest. The liberal Interior Minister Harold Ickes then invited the singer to an open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial the following year, which was attended by 75,000 people.
Unlike fellow singer Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson was not an activist in the fight for racial equality. However, she protested in her own way, says Met archivist Robert Tuggle. He remembers how the singer skilfully evaded the racial segregation in the theater, which is required by law in some states at her concerts in the 1940s.
Tuggle: The audience was still divided into whites and blacks. At a Marian Anderson concert, however, the rows of seats were occupied in such a way that the whites sat in the row to the left of the aisle and the blacks in the row on the right. In the row behind it it was exactly the opposite. That's how easy she mixed the audience.
In 1965, ten years after her appearance as the first black singer in the Metropolitan Opera, Marian Anderson ended her career. Although she played an important role in the fight against racial segregation, she only ever saw herself as a musician.
Anderson: I did not set out to change the world. I couldn't have done that anyway. What I am portraying is the abundance of goodwill, support and understanding shown to me by people all over the world - by people who simply saw me for who I am.
Marian Anderson, My Life, Vienna-Stuttgart-Zurich, 1960
Russell Freedman, The Voice That Challenged A Nation, New York, 2004
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